DOHA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Khartoum will offer Darfur’s most powerful rebel group government posts as part of a future peace deal to end conflict in Sudan’s west, according to documents setting out the terms of negotiations seen by Reuters.
The documents were the first concrete sign that Khartoum is prepared to share power with its bitter foe in the western region — a development that could alienate existing allies there and complicate preparations for April elections.
But rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) played down chances of reaching a final peace pact by March 15, as outlined in a framework deal for peace talks that will be signed later on Tuesday in the Qatari capital Doha.
“We are working to meet the March 15 deadline, but that itself is not a requirement,” chief JEM negotiator Ahmed Tugud told Reuters.
“We are trying to move forward, at least. It has been a long time since we’ve had a direct dialogue (with the government). We believe it is the right time to start,” he added.
Another rebel official said the deadline was unrealistic, and rebels reported fresh violence in Darfur two days after an initial version of the framework peace deal was inked in Chad.
The initial framework included a ceasefire, plans to integrate the JEM into Sudan’s army and a promise to reach a final peace deal by March 15. Tuesday’s event has been billed as the “official signing”.
“Peace will prevail in Darfur before the coming elections,” Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was quoted as saying by State news agency Suna late on Monday.
According to a French-language copy of the framework agreement, the JEM and Khartoum agreed to “the participation of the Justice and Equality Movement at all levels of government ... in a manner to be agreed subsequently between the two parties”.
The deal comes a year after Khartoum and the JEM met in Doha to agree to confidence-building measures designed to pave the way for the framework agreement and then full peace talks.
That process stalled after the JEM accused Khartoum of attacking its positions days after the ceasefire and of failing to carry out agreed measures, including freeing JEM captives.
JEM rebels, widely thought to control the biggest military insurgent force in Darfur, said on Tuesday they had been attacked by government forces on Monday in violation of the truce but would press on with signing the peace framework.
Sudan’s army denied being involved in clashes with the JEM, which carried out an unprecedented attack on Khartoum in 2008, and the rebel report was not confirmed by independent sources.
Khartoum has accused rebels of fabricating attacks in the past, but the timing of the JEM report could cast a shadow over ceremonies to ratify the ceasefire in Doha.
“Our comrades and garrison east of Jabel Moun (near West Darfur’s border with Chad) were attacked by government forces and militias, backed up by Antonovs (aircraft) and helicopters ... we defeated them,” JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam told Reuters.
Asked about the report, a Sudanese army spokesman told Reuters: “The Sudanese army is not involved in any clashes with JEM. The Sudanese army is committed to the agreement between the Sudanese army and JEM.”
Bashir on Saturday cancelled death sentences handed out to more than 100 men accused of taking part in the JEM attack on Khartoum and promised to free 30 percent of them “immediately”.
Authorities at Khartoum’s Kober prison on Monday told Reuters they were still waiting for orders to free inmates.
The JEM’s Tugud said his group would push for the postponement of elections as part of the “power-sharing” negotiations. The JEM and other rebels say elections would be a farce if held amid conflict.
Khartoum has so far insisted on the April date for the poll, set up as part of a peace deal that ended Sudan’s separate north-south civil war in 2005.
Other rebels, chief among them the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, have rejected the framework.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died since the JEM and the SLA launched a revolt in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region. Khartoum rejects that figure.