Darfur rebel resists pressure to join peace deal

ABUJA (Reuters) — A rebel leader from Sudan’s Darfur region has rebuffed the latest proposals from African Union (AU) mediators for him to join a peace deal despite intense pressure by diplomats desperate to gain wider support for the accord.

Abdel Wahed Mohammed Nur of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) refused the peace settlement signed on May 5 by the Sudanese government and rival SLA factional leader Minni Arcua Minnawi to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands.

The rejection of the accord by Nur and by smaller rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) raised fears it would not end the war.

Refugees have rioted against the agreement in several Darfur camps and students from the region have protested in the capital Khartoum. At least two people have died in the violence.

Many Darfuris feel the agreement was imposed by the international community and support from just one faction means it will not work on the ground — hence an international push to get Nur to sign on, which continued on Sunday.

Nur is weak militarily but his endorsement of the agreement is important because he is a member of the Fur tribe, Darfur’s largest. His rival Minnawi has more fighters but he is from the smaller Zaghawa ethnic group.

The SLA and the JEM took up arms in early 2003 accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglecting Darfur, an ethnicaly mixed region the size of France in western Sudan.

Khartoum backed militias known as Janjaweed, drawn from Arab tribes, to crush the rebellion. The ensuing campaign of murder, looting, rape and arson has driven more than two million from their homes into refugee camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.

Rebel demands

Nur says he will sign the peace deal, but only if first the government accepts some of his key demands in an annex accord.

The demands include greater compensation from Khartoum for Darfur war victims and greater SLA involvement in monitoring the disarmament of the Janjaweed and the return home of refugees.

“At this stage we are not signing because we get nothing, but we are trying to push the government to make some concessions. … If the government accepts and signs, then Abdel Wahed will sign,” said close adviser Ibrahim Madibo on Sunday.

This looks unlikely to happen before a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia on Monday that is considered a deadline to add new signatures to the deal.

Early on Sunday, senior AU mediators who had been focusing full-time on Nur since May 5 left the Nigerian capital Abuja, venue of two years of peace talks that led to the accord.

But in a sign that intense efforts to gain Nur’s acceptance would continue until the last minute, one of the mediators was called back into town as he was about to check into his flight to leave Nigeria. “I am here for another day,” he said.

The mediators had argued that Nur should sign first and negotiate with the government later. They say the agreement cannot be renegotiated as two parties have signed it, but there is room for extra concessions during the implementation phase.

“Our fear is that if he signs, the government will not give anything afterwards,” Madibo told Reuters.

Nur’s demands have put mediators in a tricky position where they risk angering Minnawi if his rival gets extra cherries.

Nur and Minnawi loathe each other but Minnawi wants Nur to sign because he does not want spoilers undermining the accord.

However, it would be hard for him to swallow any concessions made to his rival after he has already signed the agreement. 

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