Sudan's Darfur ceasefire leaves big doubts

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Sudan's promise of a ceasefire in Darfur on Wednesday left doubts as to whether it would help bring peace or improve President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's chances of avoiding a possible indictment for alleged war crimes there.

- The overriding question is whether Sudan is sincere. Jaded Darfuris have seen past ceasefires fizzle while the fighting continues in Sudan's remote west. Rebels said the last big ceasefire, announced before 2007 peace talks in Libya, was broken days later when government planes bombed their positions.

- Observers say powerful figures in the dominant National Congress Party still believe they can win the Darfur conflict through military means. Any ceasefire would have to hold for several months before it started to gain credibility.

- Although President Bashir said the decision did not come with any strings attached, he added that it would come into force "provided an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and observed by all involved parties".

- That might seem like a technicality, but U.N. officials privately admit there is no effective international ceasefire monitoring system in place in Darfur, even though one was supposed to have been set up under a failed 2006 peace deal. Diplomats wonder whether this could provide a loophole to allow hostilities to continue.

- The swift rebel rejection of Bashir's announcement made it even less likely that the ceasefire will hold.

- Darfur rebel groups have been making new alliances and building up forces in recent months. An unprecedented attack on Khartoum by JEM rebels in May also suggested they have secured fresh funding. In a sign of their strength, rebels have attacked government patrols venturing into their territories.

- Even if the army and rebels agreed to stop fighting, that still leaves scores of small armed groups in Darfur who are only interested in looting and armed robbery. They would not be bound by the ceasefire. Camps for displaced Darfuris are also increasingly militarised, posing another problem.

- It is questionable whether President Bashir could fulfil the promise to disarm Darfur militias since Khartoum is no longer fully in control of many of the armed groups, often described collectively as the Janjaweed, if it ever was. Militias have stormed government strongholds in recent months to demand pay and looted villages in their own raids. Some have shown signs of changing sides.

- Sudan's foreign minister had made clear the government hoped its Darfur initiative would help persuade Western permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to support deferring a possible International Criminal Court war crimes indictment against Bashir, which the court's prosecutor has requested.

- Sudan needs to win over three countries -- the United States, Britain and France. All have threatened to veto any attempt to defer a prosecution without serious concessions from Khartoum. The peace proposals outlined by Sudan might be enough to win some diplomats over, particularly if Sudan can show that the lives of ordinary Darfuris are improving. But there are a host of outstanding demands that are not met by today's report, not least the surrender of a militia leader and a government minister already wanted by the international court.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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