Sudan's Leader Agrees to 60-Day Cease-Fire in Darfur

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 11, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 10 -- Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir agreed on Wednesday to a 60-day cease-fire in his nation's troubled Darfur region but again rejected calls for a U.N. force to help end one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts.

Bashir issued a joint statement with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) agreeing to the temporary halt of military action while also expanding access for journalists and aid workers. Richardson, who had traveled to Sudan on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group, said several rebel leaders had orally agreed to the cease-fire.

Successive cease-fires, including a May 2006 peace deal negotiated in Nigeria, have been broken both by Bashir and by the various rebel groups fighting for control of Darfur. But Richardson, who has negotiated with the Sudanese president on other occasions, said Bashir appeared sincere in seeking a diplomatic solution.

"He realizes he's isolated and has got to change," Richardson said by telephone from Khartoum, Sudan's capital. "He's boxed in."

Bashir, however, showed little evidence of relenting on his refusal to allow thousands of U.N. peacekeeping troops into Darfur, as the United States and international leaders have demanded. An underfunded and ineffective force fielded by the 53-country African Union has long operated in Darfur, but it has had little success in controlling a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and displaced millions of others.

"Our experience with U.N. operations in the world is not encouraging," Bashir told an Associated Press reporter Wednesday. "There are sufficient forces in the Sudan from African countries to maintain order, and they can provide order. All we need is funding for the African troops."

Bashir has agreed to allow a small number of U.N. advisers to assist with the African Union mission.

In the joint statement with Richardson, Bashir agreed to paint his white warplanes another color so they no longer resemble the aircraft of international aid groups. He also agreed on the importance of disarming the Janjaweed militias, echoing declarations made but not fulfilled in the past. These groups have carried out repeated armed attacks on civilians.

Analyst John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group held out little hope of the 60-day cease-fire being respected, but he said Richardson's diplomatic activity highlighted how little the Bush administration has achieved despite labeling the Darfur conflict genocide and repeatedly threatening tough action.

"Where is the administration on this stuff?" said Prendergast, speaking from Washington.

Amjad Atallah, an adviser to the Save Darfur Coalition who was traveling with Richardson's delegation, expressed skepticism that Bashir would end the violence in Darfur. "At the end of the day, President Bashir may not honor these terms," said Atallah, speaking from Khartoum. "We are not naive about it."

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