Darfur Rebels Reject Sudan Peace Offer

The Associated Press
Monday, May 1, 2006; 6:35 PM

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Darfur rebels have bickered among themselves, violated a cease-fire and even been accused of attacking peacekeepers. Now they risk being seen as standing in the way of an agreement to stop the bloodshed in one of the saddest places in the world.

With a midnight Tuesday deadline approaching after more than two years of talks here, Sudan's government said it was ready to sign a peace accord with the rebels from the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

But the rebels, suspicious of the government's intentions, rejected the agreement proposed by the African Union. They said it did not guarantee enough political power for Darfur or provide enough detail on how it would be implemented.

"We are not ready to sign until the Sudanese give concessions to our demands," said Ahmed Hussein, a spokesman for one of two rebel factions. In rejecting the African Union draft, he said he was speaking on behalf of both his Justice and Equality Movement and the other main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement.

Mediators who proposed the peace deal had originally demanded the rebels and Sudan's government accept it by Sunday. As negotiations bogged down, they extended talks for 48 hours and called on the rebels to accept what they may see as an imperfect document.

"You have made many sacrifices in your struggle for your people," African Union mediator Salim Ahmed Salim told the rebels in a statement Monday. "Now is the time for you to show leadership and make the compromises necessary for peace, for the sake of the people of Darfur."

In accepting the draft, the Sudanese government agreed to disarm militia it is accused of unleashing on Darfur civilians, commit millions of dollars to rebuilding a region devastated by poverty and war, and compensate victims of the fighting, Salim said.

Fighting in Darfur has killed tens of thousands and forced millions more from their homes. Both sides have been repeatedly accused of violating a cease-fire, including attacks on African Union peacekeepers. Infighting among the rebels has complicated the talks.

The rebel groups are fighting the government for more control over their region, though they have also battled each other for territory. The Justice and Equality Movement is closely linked to Islamic fundamentalists. The Sudan Liberation Movement _ which started fighting for more governing autonomy for Darfur in February 2003 _ split in November, and both factions have sent representatives to the talks.

"Probably at the mega level they're fighting the same government for the same reasons, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll all agree on what the solutions are," said John Ashworth, who advises church peace groups on Sudan.

Still, he said the rebels may have cause to worry about the eagerness of the government to sign the African Union deal.

"I'm not at all surprised that the rebels are not accepting the peace deal. Why should they? It's never going to be implemented," Ashworth said. "The government is just going to undermine it every way they can."

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