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Human Rights Group Questions Effectiveness of Darfur Ceasefire

The human rights group Amnesty International is reacting to the latest ceasefire announcement for Darfur. It says such announcements have had little effect in the past.

In an official statement, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir says, "I hereby announce our immediate unconditional ceasefire between the armed forces and warring factions provided that an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and be observed by all involved parties."

Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty's Africa program, spoke from London to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the announcement Wednesday from the Sudanese president.

"Amnesty International's reaction is that we've had so many declarations of ceasefires since the conflict began in 2003 in Darfur, but none of those ceasefires has resulted in any change for people on the ground. And we're saying that this must not be another occasion where the political declarations of ceasefires do not result in any change on the ground. What the people of Darfur need are not political declarations. What they need is real tangible change…especially with regards to security and with regards to provision of humanitarian aid," he says.

Hondora says Bashir's announcement contains a caveat. "He (Bashir) is obviously making it subject to UNAMID presumably creating a unit or perhaps a force that's able to…monitor and enforce security. Now, what we say is that all parties to this conflict should make sure that civilians are not targeted whether or not there's a ceasefire…. What we are asking for is that both the government of Sudan, as well as armed opposition groups, must desist from activities that put civilians in danger. At the moment, both parties engage in activities that result in civilians being targeted, in civilians becoming displaced and in women and children being particularly affected," he says.

UNAMID is the hybrid UN/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The Sudanese president also called for "an immediate campaign to disarm the militias." Hondora says, "That is one of the recommendations that was made and been consistently made by the United Nations Security Council. It is also a call that Amnesty International has been issuing since the start of this conflict when we raised the issue of Janjaweed militia that was being used by the government of Sudan in attacking civilians, which resulted in millions being displaced and hundreds of thousands being killed. And the government of Sudan has over the years said that they were disarming Janjaweed militias, yet precious little has resulted or changed on the ground."

Amnesty International's Hondora says the organization is calling on the Sudanese government to "abide by its international obligations and the promises that they have made, which is to disarm them, whether or not there is a ceasefire. They do have that obligation."

The declaration comes at a time when President Bashir faces a possible arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Hondora says, "It is critical that those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and brutalized the people of Darfur do need to face justice. There must be no impunity for their crimes irrespective of the positions they hold or not in government."