Sudan launches Darfur peace effort, rebels boycott

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By Alaa Shahine

KHARTOUM, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Sudan's president, accused of genocide by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), launched a national initiative on Thursday to bring peace to Darfur.

Rebels dismissed the move by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as a public relations trick and boycotted the launch.

But Bashir, addressing top delegates from the Arab League, the African Union, Egypt, Libya and Qatar, along with several Sudanese political parties, said the initiative was serious. "Despite the difficulties and obstacles ... we declare our determination to reach a final solution this time," he said.

Bashir said the solution would be based on principles which included ending the violence and supporting the voluntary repatriation of hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have fled their homes since the Darfur conflict flared in 2003.

Government officials said the various Sudanese parties that are part of the initiative will hammer out recommendations on how to resolve the conflict next week.

Darfur rebels said Bashir was merely trying to avoid the issuing of an ICC arrest warrant by showing the world he was trying to resolve the conflict.

"They just want to gain time," said Abdel-Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, head of one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM). "They want to show that there is a peace process ... but the fact on the ground is that they are killing people."


Bashir pledged more cooperation with the joint United Nations and African Union force in Darfur, known as UNAMID, to secure the passage of aid convoys, along with up to $350 million of spending on development in the region until the end of 2009.

The Arab League and African Union (AU) are leading efforts to prepare the ground for yet another round of peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups, this time in Qatar.

Djibril Bassole, the joint U.N./AU mediator for Darfur, noted the rebel boycott but said Bashir's effort was key to bring about peace.

"I believe that this initiative is the main initiative because for peace we need the commitment of the government, and this initiative is a very good commitment," he said.

Alberto Fernandez, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Sudan, was more sceptical.

"If it is a true process, if this is the beginning of a true change, a substantive change in the way Darfur has been handled, then it would be supported by people," he said.

"But there is a problem. The government lacks credibility because of the last five years. So there is doubt in the minds of many people ... That doesn't mean that it can't be overcome."

International experts estimate more than five years of fighting in Darfur has claimed the lives of 200,000 people since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. Sudan puts the death count at 10,000 and accuses the international media of exaggerating the conflict.

The crisis took a new turn earlier this year when the chief prosecutor of the ICC asked judges to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir, accusing him of masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur. Sudan says it does not recognise the court.

The Arab League and the African Union have urged the U.N. Security Council to block any indictment of Bashir to avoid shattering the attempts to end the conflict in Darfur.

But rebel groups said they had doubts about the impartiality of any Arab-led effort to end the crisis.

"We need to be convinced that they are an impartial party first," said Suleiman Jamous, a leading member of the Sudan Liberation Army/Unity faction.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens, writing by Alaa Shahine, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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