ABUJA,(Reuters) – A rebel faction from Sudan’s Darfur region, under intense pressure to join a peace agreement, said on Friday its overture to the government had received a positive response and a breakthrough looked possible.
Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) has so far refused to endorse a peace deal signed a week ago by rival SLA factional leader Minni Arcua Minnawi and by the Sudanese government to end three years of bloodshed.
The deal’s rejection by Nur and by a smaller rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), has raised fears that it would not end the war. The agreement was greeted with violent demonstrations in several Darfur refugee camps.
Nur wrote to African Union (AU) mediators late on Wednesday asking to reopen discussions with Khartoum and pledging to sign the accord if key demands were addressed in a separate document.
“There is a very positive reply from the AU and a positive reply from the government. This might lead to a breakthrough in the negotiations,” said Ibrahim Madibo, a close adviser to Nur. They are still in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where the talks that led to the May 5 peace deal took place.
Nur’s main demands are for more compensation funds for Darfur from Khartoum, greater political representation for his group, and greater involvement in mechanisms to enforce a ceasefire and disarmament plan foreseen in the accord.
“If there’s a new development (on these demands) I’m ready to sign anywhere, anytime, … But only if there is a clear supplementary document,” Nur told Reuters at his hotel.
The SLA and the JEM took up arms in early 2003 accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglecting Darfur, an arid region the size of France in western Sudan.
Khartoum backed militias known as Janjaweed, drawn from Arab tribes, to crush the rebellion. Tens of thousands of people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes in the ensuing campaign of murder, looting, rape and arson.
Western nations are pushing for a U.N. force to take over from a poorly equipped 7,000-strong AU mission which has failed to restore peace in Darfur.
A reluctant Khartoum had said it would consider letting in U.N. troops if a peace agreement were signed in Abuja, but European Union officials said on Friday Sudan’s opposition to a U.N. mission had in fact increased since the deal was reached.
Diplomats in Abuja say discussions involving Nur, Minnawi, the government and international mediators are under way to coax Nur into signing the deal but the situation was delicate.
“We’re in the thick of it. It could go either way,” said one diplomat who requested anonymity.
Nur and Minnawi loathe each other but Minnawi wants Nur to sign because he does not want spoilers undermining the accord. However, it would be hard for him to swallow any concessions made to his rival after he has already signed the agreement.
Nur is weak militarily but his endorsement of the agreement is important because he is a member of the Fur tribe, Darfur’s largest. Minnawi has more fighters but he is from the smaller Zaghawa ethnic group.
Hostility between ethnic groups in Darfur has fuelled the conflict.