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Darfur Refugees Wary of Peace Deal - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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GAGA, Chad (Reuters) -Darfuri refugees sheltering in crowded camps in arid eastern Chad might have been expected to celebrate a long-awaited peace deal but they say they are in no rush to pack bags, load mules and begin the trek back home.

Many are wary of the agreement struck on Friday because it does not include all rebel factions, while others are highly skeptical the Sudanese government will keep its side of the bargain.

“I’m all for peace, but the deal has to be a realistic one or we’ll end up back home facing the same violence that caused us to flee in the first place,” said Adam Dingila, a community leader at the Gaga refugee camp, who has lost 15 members of his family to the conflict in Darfur.

The government of Sudan and the main Darfur rebel faction inked an agreement on Friday in Nigeria to end three years of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 2 million to flee their homes, including more than 200,000 who poured across the border into neighboring Chad.

But a rival faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement rejected the proposals and it was unclear whether the accord, signed after two years of African Union-mediated talks, would bring peace on the ground.

“All three groups have to sign up to the peace deal for me to accept it. It’s the only way I will be convinced it’s a real accord for the people of Darfur,” said refugee Ismael Haron, 37, who runs a market stall at the sprawling Gaga camp.

“I’d like to go home in 2006, but I doubt it will happen.”

Western diplomats who applied last-minute pressure at negotiations in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, stressed Friday’s deal was just a first step at ending what aid workers say is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Refugees living at Gaga, the newest of 12 camps strung across eastern Chad, had suggestions of their own about what they would like to see happen before they thought about leaving.

“It’s not just a peace deal that we need. As refugees, we have our own problems. We had our animals and goods stolen, our houses burned, we need to be reimbursed,” said 48-year-old Ali Yaya Omar, voicing a concern raised by many refugees.

Others were still worried about the Janjaweed marauders — whom Khartoum is accused of using to wage a campaign of arson and looting, slaughter and rape since early 2003 — and were unconvinced about pledges to disarm them.

“What guarantee do we have of our security if we were to go back now? I want to see U.N. forces on the ground to protect us before I return,” said 30-year-old Abdelrahman Yaya, his friends nodding in agreement.

Western governments have called for the 7,000-strong AU mission in Darfur to be turned over to the United Nations, but the Sudanese government has said it would only consider a U.N. presence in the region the size of France after a peace deal.

Many refugees said they expected Khartoum to renege on its pledge to cooperate to end the war in Darfur.

“We know (President Omar Hassan) al-Bashir. We have seen him make agreements and then break them 10 minutes later, and that worries us,” market vendor Haron sighed.

Aid workers say it will take time for refugees to build up the confidence to brave going back. Many Darfuris who have ended up in Chad have fled the Janjaweed militias more than once and bear the physical and psychological scars of their attacks.

“I’m in no hurry. I will wait for the war to really end.,” said Halima Anour Yaya, a 67-year-old grandmother.

“My children in Darfur will send word to me.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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