Sudan cease-fire call gets wary reception in Darfur

Previous cease-fire attempts have failed to prevent violence. Many say the Sudanese president is trying to prevent a war-crimes indictment.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has proposed a unilateral cease-fire in the troubled Darfur region, including the disarming of progovernment militia blamed for five years of bloodshed that has displaced millions of villagers and drawn in foreign peacekeepers. Some rebel groups in the area immediately dismissed the proposal as an empty gesture. Several previous cease-fire proposals have failed to stem the fighting in Darfur.

Mr. Bashir faces a possible war-crimes indictment in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Wednesday's proposal appears aimed at persuading the United Nations not to pursue the indictment, as it could jeopardize any peace initiatives. The cease-fire in Darfur is part of a package of measures from a Qatari-backed initiative that rebel groups in Darfur have refused to join.

The BBC reports that the panel's recommendations are expected to pave the way for a peace conference in Qatar. But any conference is unlikely to succeed unless Darfur's various rebel groups can be brought into the process.

Last week, the JEM rejected Qatar's mediation and called for direct one-on-one talks with the Sudanese government, Reuters reported. But a member of the ruling National Congress Party rejected this proposal and said a comprehensive solution was needed that involved all parties, unlike in 2006, when only one Darfur rebel group signed onto a peace accord.

In July, the chief prosecutor of the ICC sought an arrest warrant for Bashir on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Sudan wants the UN Security Council to suspend any legal proceeding for a year and allow Sudan to prosecute Darfur 'criminals,' says Agence France-Presse. Arab and African countries have largely sided with Sudan on the issue.

Believed to be supported by Khartoum, ethnic Arab militia known as janjaweed are accused of widespread atrocities against African civilians in Darfur where as many as 300,000 people have died since 2003. Rebel groups in the region have called for the disarming of the janjaweed – as well as a pullback of government troops – as a precondition for peace talks, reports the Associated Press. Bashir promised Wednesday to "empower" a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur as part of the peace plan.

In an editorial, Saudi-based English-language daily Arab News said Bashir's proposed cease-fire was commendable, including the call to disarm the janjaweed, though it questioned how this could be achieved. The unsigned editorial pointed out that the cool response from rebel groups was a concern, but should not be used as a reason for inaction by Sudanese authorities.

CNN reports that Darfur activists in the US are pushing President-elect Barack Obama to prioritize the troubled region when he takes office in January. John Prendergast, whose ENOUGH campaign is closely affiliated with Obama's transition co-chairman John Podesta, wants Mr. Obama to appoint a team to focus on Darfur during his first 100 days.

The peace deal signed in 2005 between Khartoum and the mineral-rich south is already fraying, as both sides may be bracing for a possible return to fighting, The Christian Science Monitor reports. The war between the two sides lasted 22 years and killed more than 2 million people. Under the 2005 pact, neither side is allowed to reinforce their military without approval from a joint defense panel. But analysts say this is being flouted. The semiautonomous south last month decided to double its budget to cover additional defense spending.

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