Why did Sudan make a deal with Darfur rebels?
Khartoum has agreed to swap prisoners and talk with Darfur insurgents.
Johannesburg, South Africa
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Under the agreement, signed Tuesday in Doha, Qatar – neither a cease-fire nor a truce, but a "confidence-building agreement" – the Khartoum government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) agree to exchange prisoners and to discuss ways to stop the fighting in Darfur.
The move could kick-start a long-dormant peace process.
"The government needs to make a big breakthrough to show the international community it is doing something for the resolution of the Darfur conflict," says Murtada al-Ghali, chief of the editorial department of Ajras al-Hurya, an independent newspaper in Khartoum, known for its critical views of the government.
It could also be a stalling tactic.
Coming just days before an anticipated decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to formally indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges, the agreement is seen by some as a bid to delay if not quash the charges altogether, and to indicate that the Arab world is sorting out the Darfur problem in its own way.
"This doesn't mean all that much at this stage, this is not a cease-fire, it's only a commitment to talk," says Alex De Waal, a Sudan expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York. "But both sides gain legitimacy by talking. What is in it for JEM? JEM is becoming recognized as the only negotiating partner on the rebel side."
Sudan aims to show it can negotiate
As for the government, Mr. De Waal says, "The ICC is hanging over them, and [chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno- Ocampo] says that the Sudanese government can't negotiate with Bashir at the head. So for them, this deal is to show that the Sudanese government can be a negotiating partner, and that the Ocampo approach is not the right way to do things."
Nearly 300,000 have been killed, and more than 2.2 million people have been displaced since the Darfur conflict began in 2003.
The conflict began as an armed protest by Sudanese citizens in the Darfur region against their government's long neglect of their region, but mutated into a bloody free-for-all – with pro-government Arab militias, called the janjaweed, attacking and burning entire villages of their African (but Muslim) neighbors.
The war has left both sides with bloody hands.
Darfur rebels have also committed atrocities, both against civilians and aid workers.
Some experts see the current peace talks in Doha, Qatar, as an attempt to stall the efforts of the International Criminal Court to indict, arrest, and try Mr. Bashir for letting loose the pro-government militias that committed most of the murders in Darfur.
"This is throwing dust in people's eyes," says Richard Cornwell, a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa, is now called. The Arab community, including Bashir's close allies, the Qatar government, may think that it can stall the decision of the ICC to indict Bashir for war crimes, Mr. Cornwell adds, "but that thing can't be stopped. You need to have the UN Security Council involved to stop that, and it has to be unanimous. Abstentions will not work."