Church groups give cautious welcome to Darfur agreement

By staff writers
August 8, 2007

Church groups working in the Darfur region have welcomed the conclusion of the Arusha talks as a step towards greater cooperation between rebels which will pave the way for serious negotiations.

In a statement the rebel groups said they had reached a common platform on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, security arrangements, land and humanitarian issues.

"We are pleased the rebel groups reached this position," said Judith Melby, UK-based international development agency Christian Aid’s Africa specialist.

"But before taking this any further it is vital that they decide who they are going to send to the negotiations to represent them. Previous talks have failed because there was not a unified body to represent them all", she added.

The rebel leaders also pledged to cease hostilities against aid agencies and the African Union (AU) peacekeepers in the Darfur.

"This is very good news," commented Ms Melby. "In the past year the situation has seriously deteriorated and we have than 500,000 people in need whom we cannot reach."

The final document will be sent to Khartoum to form part of the agenda for renewed peace talks.

However, Christian Aid says it remains concerned that there are still many parties to the conflict which are not represented at the peace talks.

The Arusha meeting aimed to bring together the Darfur armed movements. However it is essential that civil society, displaced people and Arab tribes are also included in the peace process

"Civil society has had no representation at these talks," said Ms Melby. "There were no leaders from the camps for internally displaced persons and no one from the Arab tribes."

At the Abuja peace talks last year the Arab tribes were displeased because Government of Sudan claimed to represent them.

The Darfur Peace Agreement reached in Abuja in May 2006 quickly became obsolete after only one rebel groups signed up to it and it became apparent that there was no buy in from Darfurians.

Christian Aid says it believes it is vital that the Arusha meeting is viewed as just the initial step in the peace talks which may ultimately lead to a peace agreement. According to the ‘roadmap plan’ this is part of the pre-negotiation phase.

Abdul Wahid al Nur, who represents the Fur tribe, was the only senior rebel leader who did not attend the talks in Arusha. As he is regarded by many of the displaced Darfurians as their representative his absence is considered to have been damaging, although he has few military forces.

The international community still have a role to play in the process although the AU and the UN are the chief mediators.

"The UK and France should use what ever leverage they have over Chad and Eritrea to encourage them to help build a consensus among the Darfur rebels," said Christian Aid's Melby.

On 31 July 2007 the UN Security Council approved the creation of a hybrid AN/UN force for Darfur. The Arusha talks have taken on added urgency as there is little point in having a peacekeeping force if there is no peace to keep.

"It is also important that the AU/UN mediation team release a progress report so that Darfurians and the international community can hold them accountable for the progress of the talks," added Ms Melby.

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