The Darfur Joint Commission met in Sudan's western region on Wednesday to discuss violations of a 2004 ceasefire agreement between Darfur rebels and the government of Sudan. The commission urged a re-energized approach toward a peaceful solution to the Darfur conflict. For VOA, Noel King has more from El Fasher.
The commission met in the north Darfur capital city of El Fasher to discuss recent ceasefire violations including Sudan's aerial bombardment of villages in north Darfur and attacks on African Union peacekeepers by unknown armed offenders.
Chief of the Darfur Peace Agreement Implementation Team, Ambassador Sam Ibok, told reporters that the Sudanese government and rebels are both responsible for grave violations of the ceasefire.
"If this peace agreement is to hold there has to be a change. We need to have a different approach, both from the government but also non-signatories," he said. "We are having a litany of reports of violations and nothing seems to have been done. This place has become a talking shop. We just come and talk about them and people go back and do more or less the same thing."
The Ceasefire Commission report listed eight breaches of the ceasefire by the Sudanese government in the past five weeks including an attack on a primary school by Arab Janjaweed militias in early December, in which children were killed and wounded.
Observers charge that Sudan arms and supports the Janjaweed.
But Ibok admitted that the report was not balanced and did not include violations of the ceasefire by rebels in Darfur.
A top Sudanese official called Sudan's recent air strikes a defensive maneuver aimed at rebels who seek to undermine Sudan's sovereignty.
Head of the Sudanese government delegation to the Ceasefire Commission, Mohamed Ahmed Addabi, told reporters the Sudan Armed Forces are not targeting civilians.
"We are not attacking people," he said. "We are not bombarding people. We have to secure our people, not bombard them."
The commission also noted a sharp deterioration in humanitarian access to civilians in Darfur due to continued violence.
But the report noted that attacks by feared militias known as Janjaweed have decreased in the past five weeks.
The ceasefire commission was formed in 2004 to monitor an agreement between rebels and the Sudan government and includes representatives from the African Union, Sudan, Darfur rebel factions and the United Nations.
Wednesday's meeting was the commission's first in Darfur. Previous meetings have been held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The AU reported that Darfur's heavily factionalized rebels are gearing up for a conference aimed at uniting their position, a move observers call the best bet to stem chaos on the ground.
The rebels have postponed the conference several times following aerial bombardments by the government of Sudan.
The Darfur conflict this month will enter into its fourth year.
Rebels in remote Darfur attacked government positions, complaining that the vast region remained undeveloped due to neglect by Sudan's powerful central government.
Sudan is charged with arming Arab militias known as Janjaweed to conduct a savage campaign of rape and murder targeting civilians from predominantly African tribes.
Experts estimate at least 200,000 people have died and some 2.5 million more have been displaced in Darfur and eastern Chad, in what the U.S. calls genocide.