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Reviving the Darfur Peace Accord

Intense diplomatic efforts are underway in Sudan in an attempt to revive the Darfur Peace Agreement, which has all but collapsed amid fighting between government troops and Darfuri rebels demanding political representation and a greater share of the nation's wealth.

The African Union, the European Union and the international community hope to bring rebel leaders who rejected the Darfur Peace Agreement back to the negotiating table.

Anne-Louise Colgan, Acting Co-Executive Director of Africa Action, an advocacy group, welcomes the move to bring stability to the region.

"There are certainly hopes that this political process can be brought back on track. I think that's a critical way forward in terms of an ultimate solution for Darfur and for Sudan as a whole. But I think what's also extremely important is the need for protection for the people of Darfur. I think that should be a top international priority- - to stop this violence and bring the protection that's needed."

An Uncertain Peace

The Darfur Peace Agreement, or D.P.A., was brokered largely by Nigeria, the United States, the European Union and the African Union. It was signed by the government of Sudan and Darfur's main rebel faction, the Sudan Liberation Army in May. But other rebel groups rejected it.

Middle East Institute scholar Mohammed Khalil says the deal did not go far enough in meeting rebel demands. "They think that the agreement does not give the people of Darfur enough say in decision-making, and [that] it does not allocate them enough resources. But that's the sort of thing that can be settled by negotiations. But I don't think there is anything wrong with the agreement itself."

But other analysts disagree, saying the accord was incomplete from the start.

The problem, says Chester Crocker of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, is that negotiations were rushed. "There was a strong sense of urgency to get it signed and one of the key rebel parties obviously did sign and the others didn't, leaving a very uncertain situation there and making it possible for one of the rebel parties to link up with the government and go after the other rebel parties. So what you're seeing is a fragmentation of the Darfur rebellion that leads to games of manipulation and opportunism on the part of the Sudanese parties."

Crocker, who served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the 1980s, adds that international pressure that made the deal possible could not be maintained to guarantee its enforcement. "That effort and that leverage were not sustained and probably couldn't be as a practical matter. And so the implementation of the D.P.A. was very ragged. So this is an example where a peace agreement gets used as an instrument of war, in effect, as time has passed," says Crocker.

Most experts agree that poor implementation is one of the reasons why the accord has been ineffective. Proper implementation, says William Church of the London-based Great Lakes Center for Strategic Studies, could bring the rebels who refused to sign back to the bargaining table. "The real focus is keeping the D.P.A. a functional, enforced peace agreement so that people can come into it eventually. And what we have now is a D.P.A. that's fallen apart so that there's no point of anyone coming back to it unless it's enforced."

What Role for the African Union?

All parties to the accord have been accused of violating the ceasefire and abandoning the agreement, which calls for an end to hostilities and promises Darfur a hand in the country's political decision-making and a share of its wealth.

The cash-strapped African Union has been monitoring the ceasefire. But is has been unable to protect civilians from government-backed militias who have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Darfur.

William Church of the Great Lakes Center for Strategic Studies argues that the African Union, or A.U., did not get the international support it expected. "They [i.e., African Union forces] were supposed to be reinforced immediately and supported until a U.N. force could arrive. It appears that the United States and the United Kingdom linked the reinforcement of the A.U. force with Sudan's acceptance of a U.N. force. Therefore, the A.U. force did not get supported or reinforced. Therefore, there is no one to militarily support the D.P.A."

But some analysts say no one has done more to forge the agreement than the United States. That the accord failed, argues Susan Rice, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, is because it was flawed from the start. "It didn't bring in the critical rebel groups. It didn't address sufficiently the root causes of the conflict and the rebels' concerns. And most importantly, it didn't obligate Khartoum to stop the killing and accept the U.N. force," says Rice.

The conflict in Darfur has claimed nearly 200,000 lives and displaced an estimated 2.5 million people since 2003, leading to what the United States has called "genocide". The African Union, which began its Darfur peacekeeping mission in 2004, has requested U.N. support. Fearing the presence of western troops on its territory, Khartoum has refused to allow the United Nations to take over the mission.

The Sudanese government has agreed, however, to individually compensate Darfuris affected by the conflict. This move, some observers say, satisfies a major rebel demand and could entice holdout rebel factions back to the negotiating table.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.