Deadline Passes Without Darfur Accord
By LYDIA POLGREEN and JOEL BRINKLEY
Published: May 1, 2006
KHARTOUM, Sudan, Monday, May 1 — Sudan's government offered Sunday to accept
a potentially historic Darfur peace agreement, but two of Darfur's three
main rebel groups raised last-minute objections that left the negotiations
mired in confusion as a midnight deadline passed. Mediators agreed to extend
the talks for 48 hours at the request of the United States.
It was unclear early Monday whether the extension in the feverish
negotiations, supervised by the African Union at talks in Abuja, Nigeria,
made it more or less likely that a deal could be reached. The talks are the
most intensive yet in an effort to end the strife in Darfur, the vast region
of western Sudan that is the site of what the United Nations has called the
world's worst refugee crisis and what the Bush administration calls
The uncertain outcome of the negotiations came as thousands of people
rallied in Washington, calling on the Bush administration to do more to help
end the Darfur conflict. [Page A17.]
By early Monday morning, the mediation group at the talks agreed to extend
them until midnight Tuesday at the request of Cameron Hume, the chargé
d'affaires at the United States Embassy in Khartoum, who said that
significant progress had been made and that more time might allow an
agreement to emerge, according to Noureddine Mezni, a spokesman for the
African Union negotiators.
"He asked if we can give 48 hours to the parties to allow them to bridge the
gap on some issues, regarding especially the reintegration and the
disarmament, plus some other issues on wealth sharing and power sharing,"
Mr. Mezni said. "His request was approved."
Progress in the talks was thrown into doubt late Sunday when Seif Haroun, a
spokesman for one of the rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army, told
reporters in Abuja, "If the proposal does not include all our demands, we
will not sign."
At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million driven from their
homes since 2003 in the chaotic ethnic and political conflict in Darfur,
which has pitted a rebel insurgency against the Arab-dominated central
government in Khartoum and its proxy tribal militias known as the janjaweed,
who are fearsome marauders considered responsible for much of the killing.
The strife has spilled into neighboring Chad and threatened to escalate the
The United States has placed nearly all of its hopes for a resolution of the
crisis on the Abuja peace talks, and a failure there would leave the Bush
administration without a viable option to end the violence in the
In Washington, Robert B. Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state and the
Bush administration's point man on Sudan policy, said in an interview that
the parties had narrowed the number of issues still under debate.
"I am encouraged, but it is not done yet," he said. African Union officials
had said they expected at least a partial breakthrough, which could allow
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking Sunday morning on ABC News,
noted that "the United States has been one of the most active states" in
working to resolve the crisis.
"Let me just say," she added, "the president has passion about this issue."
Mr. Zoellick, who spent much of Sunday evening conferring by telephone with
American diplomats and negotiators in Abuja, said he was not terribly
concerned that some of the smaller rebel factions had rejected the proposed
agreement, saying these groups would have to come along if the largest
faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement, led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, did
Mr. Minnawi "is trying to be serious about this," Mr. Zoellick said, "with
the understanding that there are still some serious difficulties, serious
issues, to work through."
The largest area of disagreement, he said, centered on "the demobilization
of both sides." The rebels and the government are quite wary of each other.
But Mr. Zoellick said Mr. Minnawi and his aides had spent four hours on
Sunday evening discussing demobilization with Mr. Hume, the chargé
d'affaires in Khartoum.
Sudanese government officials here said Sunday they would accept the peace
plan, but their agreement came only after it became apparent that at least
some of the rebels would balk.
The proposed agreement would allow for some power and wealth sharing with
political groups aligned with the rebel movements that have fought in the
insurgency since 2003.
"We have some reservations to the initial draft, but we have submitted our
acceptance to the African Union," said Jamal Ibrahim, a government spokesman
Some rebel leaders say the proposed deal fell short of their demands. The
agreement does not give the Darfur groups the vice presidency they demanded,
and does not create a single state out of the three states in Darfur,
something Darfur political and militant groups say would help reduce the
region's powerlessness and marginalization.
The Darfur groups and the Sudanese government have been under enormous
pressure to reach an agreement, to end the squabbling that has dominated
previous negotiations. The African Union presented both parties with a draft
agreement on Tuesday.
Should the talks fail, it is unclear what the next step might be. Ms. Rice
and other officials have talked about stationing as many as 20,000 United
Nations peacekeeping troops in Darfur, to replace the African Union force of
7,000 that has tried unsuccessfully to keep the peace in Darfur over the
But Sudan has refused to allow any U.N. force in without a signed peace
agreement, and few countries have volunteered to provide troops for the
mission, even if permission were granted. The Bush administration seems
unwilling to proceed with this venture without permission from Sudan.
Recognizing that, perhaps, Ms. Rice urged other countries to get involved.
"We need more help from the international community," she said on CNN. "We
need more help, frankly, from China and Russia, which I think have to look
at what is going on there and ask what more they can do." Both Russia and
China have significant business interests in Sudan and have often been
defenders of Sudan at the United Nations and elsewhere.
Even if all the parties do finally reach agreement, senior officials and
diplomats said they had serious doubts about the likelihood that it would
quickly end the violence. The proposed treaty calls on the Sudanese
government to disarm the janjaweed militias. But the United States and other
nations have been urging the Sudanese government to disarm the militias for
almost three years, to no effect.
Mr. Zoellick said: "If they reach an accord, it is in the Sudanese
government's interest to respect it. I think the janjaweed have become a
political liability for them now."
What is more, almost everyone involved acknowledges that a cease-fire would
have to be enforced. But the African Union forces in Darfur have been unable
to prevent violations of numerous cease-fires that have been declared over
the previous months.
Some United Nations officials urged the African Union mediators to delay the
start of any new cease-fire until after the African Union's force could be
strengthened and its armaments and intelligence gathering capabilities
improved. But the African Union did not accept that idea, and Mr. Zoellick
said he did not favor it.
Still, he added, acknowledging the problem, "if they do reach a peace
accord, it will have to be complemented by actions on the ground."
The rebel movements have portrayed themselves as fighters for minority
rights against a powerful central government that discriminates against
non-Arab tribes, but as the conflict has dragged on and the movements have
split into rival factions that now battle among themselves for territory,
they have also been criticized for their tactics.