KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – One of the biggest Darfur rebel factions said on Thursday it would respect a ceasefire and was ready to resume peace talks with Sudan’s government to try to halt violence in the region that has killed some 200,000 people.
Peace talks have faltered in the past with only one of three main rebel factions signing a 2006 deal. Since then the rebels have fragmented into numerous factions, but the group which agreed to the ceasefire on Thursday is one the largest with a significant number of troops on the ground in the arid region. “We will respect the … ceasefire and … once we have our commanders conference we will attend peace negotiations,” Darfur rebel commander Jar el-Neby told Reuters.
The announcement came after U.N. Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson and his African Union counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim on Wednesday met Darfur rebel commanders who rejected the 2006 peace deal.
Experts point out that while one rebel faction has said it is ready to talk peace, Sudan’s government may not agree.
Rebels have in the past rejected AU mediation of any new talks because the pan-African body mediated the first peace deal which they said was biased.
“We will now be happy with mediation from the United Nations and the AU,” said Neby after meeting Salim and Eliasson.
Divisions among Darfur’s rebel factions have been a factor in delaying peace talks with Khartoum, and a conference to try to unite their positions has been delayed many times, twice due to government bombardment. It is due to begin on Feb. 19.
As the conflict has dragged on, it has also spread with Sudan and next-door Chad trading accusations that each is backing rebel groups against the other in Sudan’s western Darfur region and in eastern Chad.
The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Thursday to discuss a proposal to deploy a mission to protect civilians and respond to the humanitarian challenge in eastern Chad, where attacks launched from neighbouring Darfur have exacerbated ethnic conflicts and displaced tens of thousands.
Tensions between Chad and Sudan dominated a summit of African nations in France, with Chad accusing Sudan of attacking its territory. The presidents of Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic are due to meet at the summit later on Thursday.
Aid agency Oxfam urged the international community on Thursday to prevent eastern Chad becoming “another Darfur”, and called on U.N. member states to contribute money and resources if the Security Council authorises deploying peacekeepers.
U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios on Wednesday warned of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur and said he feared a “blood bath” if aid groups were forced out and pro-government militia tried to close camps which are sheltering millions there.
Experts estimate some 200,000 have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in four years of conflict in Darfur. Washington calls the violence genocide, a term European governments are reluctant to use and Khartoum rejects.
The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in Darfur and has said it hoped to present its first case this month.