CAIRO, (AP) – An international donors conference aimed Sunday to draw more than $2 billion in pledges for projects intended to ensure the safe return of more than 2.7 million people displaced during the war in Darfur.
The one-day conference in Cairo was organized by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference and also included representatives from the U.S., European nations, U.N. agencies and aid groups.
Host Egypt said the conference highlighted the importance of development in achieving peace and stability in Darfur.
The fighting, which began with a 2003 rebellion by groups accusing the government of neglect, has dwindled over the past year and peace talks are under way in Qatar. Many of those displaced, however, are still living in camps and their future is one of the central unresolved issues. An estimated 300,000 people lost their lives to violence, disease and displacement.
“Egypt hopes the conference will provide an incentive to all Darfurian movements to join the peace process,” an Egyptian statement said earlier in March.
Organizers said they want to raise funds through grants or loans for six development projects in the areas of water, health care, housing, education and rural development.
The return of refugees is one of the most contentious issues in the conflict. A majority are displaced within Darfur, but some also fled across the border to Chad.
Refugees fear the government is forcing their return to their villages or other areas to erase the most sore manifestation of the conflict without actually dealing with the causes of the rebellion.
Refugees complain that Sudan’s government moved populations around to alter the ethnic makeup of the region. Some refuse to return except to their original villages and not to newly built communities.
Some experts say a change of population centers is inevitable because the return of refugees to their original villages — many of which were torched and destroyed — is inconceivable because of drought and lack of adequate water resources in some cases in the vast, arid region.
The peace talks in Qatar have produced cease-fire agreements between the government and one of Darfur’s most powerful rebel groups as well as a newly formed umbrella group of smaller rebel factions. Political agreements on the sharing of power and resources are still under discussion.
The Qatar peace conference pledged to start a $1 billion fund for Darfur development.
But the talks have yet to include one of the most influential groups, Sudan’s Liberation Movement, which has strong backing among the refugee community.