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Darfur Peace Agreement in Danger

The United Nations and African Union are on high alert in El Fasher, the capital city of northern Darfur. Attacks by militias, known as Janjaweed, have jeopardized the Darfur Peace Agreement. From Khartoum, Noel King reports former rebels have indicated they may return to war.

Fighting erupted, Monday, when armed Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, launched an evening raid on the market in El Fasher, the capital city of north Darfur.

Five unarmed members of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) - the only rebel faction to sign on to the Darfur Peace Agreement - attempted to intervene.

Two SLA combatants died from injuries in the fighting.

Tuesday the SLA faction - led by Minni Minnawi - condemned the attacks and threatened to pull out of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

Minnawi accuses the Sudanese government of failing to stop violent attacks on civilians.

United Nations Spokeswoman Rhadia Achouri spoke with VOA Wednesday. She says heightened tensions have forced the United Nations to withdraw some staff from the city.

"We evacuated all non-essential staff and NGOs," she said. "The incidents that happened in the market are part of the concerns that we have and also the increased presence of the Janjaweed in the town, itself, and reports of increased presence of armed groups in the vicinity of EL Fasher - these are the considerations that compelled us to proceed to temporarily relocate non-essential staff."

El Fasher is home to tens of thousands of refugees who fled fighting in their villages for large camps.

Tuesday, the African Union peacekeeping component - based in El Fasher - said it had received reports that the AU base was under threat of attack by rebels massing outside of the city.

Still, AU Spokesman Nourredine Mezni tells VOA the area remains calm. He says the AU is trying to alleviate tension between former rebels and the Sudanese Government, which is widely believed to be arming the Janjaweed.

"Today, we have an esteemed committee of the signatories of the DPA. They will meet to discuss what happened yesterday and review the security situation in Darfur," he said.

Minnawi's threats to pull out of the Darfur Peace Agreement portend a severe blow to the already shaky deal. His faction of the SLA was the only one to sign on to the AU-brokered peace agreement.

Other rebel factions say the agreement does not meet their basic demands of wealth and power sharing.

The Darfur conflict is entering into its forth year. Tens of thousands of Darfuris have died and some two million others have been displaced in Darfur and eastern Chad.