March 18, 2010 / 9:51 AM / 10 years ago

Sudan signs deal with second Darfur rebel group

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan signed a ceasefire agreement with a second Darfur rebel group on Thursday, part of a government campaign to resolve the conflict in Sudan’s violent west before elections next month.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at a rally in Khartoum, May 14, 2008. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

Government officials signed the deal with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella group of small factions, in Qatar, weeks after Khartoum agreed a now faltering accord with Darfur’s powerful insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Other rebel groups have dismissed the LJM as insignificant and are still refusing to deal with Khartoum seven years after the start of the conflict.

Darfur’s mostly non-Arab rebels splintered after the early years of the conflict, which started in 2003.

Their fragmentation, and lingering distrust among the warring parties, has bedevilled efforts to get insurgents round the negotiating table with Khartoum..

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told reporters in the Qatari capital Doha, where peace talks have been taking place, that Thursday’s agreement was an important step.

“We call on all movements and factions including Justice and Equality Movement ... to join in serious and honest negotiations as soon as possible,” he said.

Negotiations between the JEM and Khartoum, which were supposed to have followed last month’s ceasefire and pave the way for a final peace accord by March, are stalled.

CEASEFIRE “MEAINGLESS”

The JEM had threatened to leave Qatar if Khartoum signed a an agreement with the Liberation and Justice Movement, which JEM dismissed as having no military firepower or support.

JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki dismissed the ceasefire accord on Thursday , but said his group had no immediate plans to leave Doha.

“The ceasefire is meaningless. It is a ceasefire without any fire,” he said, speaking just before the signing. “We will not leave Doha. We cannot respond now in a reflex reaction. We will see how it (the new accord) goes.”

Al-Feki said JEM would support the new deal if the factions under the LJM agreed to join its forces and negotiate with Khartoum as one organisation.

JEM is demanding Khartoum delay April’s presidential and legislative elections, saying they would be a farce in Darfur without a full peace deal.

Taha said the vote would not be postponed. “We want to combine the best (of both worlds) and that is holding timely elections and making it possible for the people of Darfur to participate in them.”

Thursday’s agreement included a temporary ceasefire that would be renewed as talks progressed and a “framework deal” listing topics for further discussion between the LJM and Khartoum, a diplomatic source close to the talks told Reuters.

LJM spokesman al-Sayyid Sherif defended the accord, saying it promised compensation for displaced Darfuris.

“This is a comprehensive solution to the problem of Darfur,” he told Reuters, adding he hoped direct talks with Khartoum would resume before the April elections.

Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the 2003 uprising, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists have called genocide.

Khartoum, which dismisses the accusation, says 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, compared with one U.N. estimate of 300,000.

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