Darfur groups seek common position
Unity among factions seen as vital to peace agreement in troubled Sudan region.
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2010 11:37 GMT
Qatar has acted as a mediator in the Darfur
conflict for over a year [AFP]

A number of Darfur's armed groups have begun informal talks in Qatar, attempting to find a common platform to engage the Sudanese government in a move towards ending the seven-year conflict.

Discussions were under way on Wednesday between the Justice Equality Movement (Jem) and some of the smaller Darfur factions, a day after Jem signed a ceasefire deal with the government.

Tijani Seisi, who leads the Liberation and Justice Movement, a bloc made up of the ten smaller Darfur factions, told Al Jazeera his group hoped to soon forge its own agreement with the government.

"We're working on a draft framework agreement to present to the mediators ... we're hoping to conclude this framework agreement between us and the Sudan government over the next few days," he said.

He gave few details of any such plan, but said: "I don't think there is that much of a gap between us and Jem."

The conflict in Darfur has pitched ethnic African tribesmen against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government, claiming the lives of up to 300,000 lives - from the fighting as well as famine and disease - and displacing 2.7 million people, according to the UN.

Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.

'Divided internally'

The truce between Jem and the government officially began following the signing ceremony in Qatar on Tuesday, but unless a comprehensive agreement can be reached, it will be difficult to achieve peace.

in depth
  Timeline: The ICC and Sudan
  Timeline: Darfur crisis
  Profile: Omar al-Bashir
  Riz Khan: Ignoring Sudan?
  Riz Khan: Sudan's interlocking crises
  Inside Story: Sliding back into civil war
  The role of the ICC
  Drought and conflict in South Sudan
  Who are Sudan's Jem rebels?

"This framework agreement is a very important step," Khalil Ibrahim, the Jem leader, said at the ceremony, attended by US, UN, African and Arab representatives among others.

"We point out, however, that the road to peace still needs much patience and honest concessions from both sides."

As part of its agreement with the Sudanese government, Jem will be offered seats in parliament.

Previous partial peace agreements have been short-lived and questions remain over the how the diverse factions that make up the Liberation and Justice Movement will make headway.

Zeina Awad, Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from Doha where the truce was signed, said: "We've seen 10 Darfuri rebel groups join together - they're very divided internally and the fact they've come together is really quite significant.

"It now comes down to whether the Sudanese government and Jem can work through a number of sticky issues that include wealth and power distribution, what happens to refugees and what will happen to Jem's own armed forces - will they become part of the Sudanese army, or will they be demilitarised?

"The next thing to look out for is whether Jem and these 10 Darfuri groups can find some platform and talk to the Sundanese government to deal with these issues."

Talks opposed

While the truce is significant because Jem constitutes the largest anti-government group fighting in Darfur, other factions have refused to negotiate.

The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA), the first group to take up arms against the government, has shunned the Qatar peace talks.

Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur said the agreement in Doha was "ceremonial" and aimed only at securing Jem a place in the government.

"Peace is not to get a [government] post. Peace is the feeling of my people, those that I belong to, feeling of safety," he said, speaking from Paris.

"We get our legitimacy from our people on the ground. No one can exclude us at all."

El-Nur, who is based in France, remains deeply popular among Darfur's refugee community.

'Major step'

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, said on Tuesday that he hoped to see a full peace agreement by mid-March and praised the presence of other opposition groups - including a splinter group from El-Nur's faction - at the signing ceremony.

"With this agreement, we take a major step toward ending the war," he said.

Jem leader Ibrahim and al-Bashir, once bitter enemies, shook hands and embraced after the signing, hosted by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar's emir.

Qatar also announced a $1bn development fund for Darfur, a region ravaged by conflict.

The truce is being signed in the run-up to Sudan's first multiparty elections in 24 years.

The conflict in Darfur has ebbed over the last year and the peace deal has been bolstered by improved relations between Sudan and Chad.

The neighbours have often accused each other of supporting armed groups in each others' territories.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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