Sudan has agreed to a joint withdrawal of government and rebel forces in the strife-torn region of Darfur and will accept a large increase in international cease-fire monitors, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said Wednesday after talks with Sudan's president.
Blair said Sudan also committed to identifying the location of its troops and weapons in Darfur and to working toward comprehensive peace agreements by the end of the year with rebels there and in southern Sudan.
More than 50,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.5 million have been driven from their homes since February 2003. The conflict, rooted in tensions between African farmers and Arab nomads, has grown into a counterinsurgency in which pro-government Arab militiamen have raped, killed and burned the homes of African villagers.
The government denies allegations that it supports the Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed.
Blair, on the first stop of a three-day visit to Africa, said President Omar Hassan Bashir had agreed to all of the suggestions he offered. They included a significant expansion of troops from the African Union in Darfur, where a few hundred of the group's soldiers have been monitoring a shaky cease-fire among two rebel groups, government troops and allied militiamen.
"We need several thousand people there in order to monitor any cease-fire," Blair told reporters at the British ambassador's residence in Khartoum, the capital.
Other proposals called for the government to identify the location of its troops and munitions in Darfur, return its troops to barracks in conjunction with a similar withdrawal by rebel forces, commit itself to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the rebels in Darfur and in southern Sudan by Dec. 31 and abide by the humanitarian accords signed with the United Nations on Darfur.
Blair said Britain would ensure that Sudan implemented all the pledges.
Hilary Benn, Britain's international development secretary, who is traveling with Blair, said Britain would also try to push the two rebel groups back to the negotiating table. Peace talks held in Nigeria collapsed last month.
"There is also a message for the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army," Benn told BBC radio. "They, too, have to be part of the solution, and they must enter negotiations in good faith with the government of Sudan, because it is only a political agreement that, in the end, will bring this to a halt."
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying Sudan was committed to "the leadership role and engagement of the African Union in addressing the situation in Darfur."
The Foreign Ministry said Blair and Bashir also discussed the "finalization" of the peace process in southern Sudan, where the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army are in the final stages of a deal to end a war that began in 1983.