Two items that are related to today's big batch:
Save Darfur press release (not including the joint statement issued by Richardson and Bashir, or the official bios of the Save Darfur representatives--both of which are on the source page)...
The Save Darfur Coalition welcomes the agreement reached today [Wednesday] by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir that his government and rebel groups will cease hostilities for a period of 60 days while they work towards a lasting peace.
The cease-fire was one of several issues agreed to in talks between Governor Richardson and President al-Bashir in Khartoum on Wednesday. Governor Richardson traveled to Sudan at the invitation of the Save Darfur Coalition, and was accompanied by Save Darfur Senior International Coordinator Ambassador (ret.) Lawrence Rossin, Refugees International Executive Director Kenneth Bacon, and Public and International Law and Policy Group senior attorney Amjad Atallah.
“There was positive movement on a number of issues, most notably the agreement to a cease-fire between the government and rebel groups that will immediately save lives. The agreement also creates an improved environment for a political settlement, based on the Darfur Peace Agreement, to move forward. There has been a deteriorating situation on the ground in recent weeks, clearly demonstrating an urgent need for increased international diplomacy and action,” said Ambassador Rossin.
The Save Darfur Coalition said the cease-fire agreement, which also included a number of concessions to improve humanitarian aid and media access to Darfur, must be accompanied by a new round of diplomacy involving Sudan, rebel leaders, the African Union, United Nations and other countries. “We must work to ensure that President al-Bashir and rebel leaders keep the commitments they have agreed to, and that the international community does not miss this important opportunity to press for a permanent, peaceful solution to the tragedy in Darfur,” said David Rubenstein, Executive Director, Save Darfur Coalition.
The Save Darfur Coalition will continue to press Khartoum as well, in part through active engagement in the agreed-upon “ongoing dialogue” with the Sudanese Government aimed at ending the violence in Darfur and achieving a political solution to the crises.
The government of Sudan and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico issued a joint statement today [Wednesday] designed to renew efforts to end a civil war in Darfur. Whether the new peace opening succeeds will depend on the will of both the government of Sudan and rebel fighters.
In the joint statement, brokered by Governor Richardson after two meetings with Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, as well as meetings with rebel leaders, Sudan agrees to a 60-day cessation of hostilities in the framework of the Darfur Peace Agreement and under the auspices of talks organized by the African Union and the United Nations. The cease-fire is designed to allow time for joint AU/UN discussions with rebel leaders to consolidate their demands so that they can participate productively in a peace summit. Under the statement worked out by Governor Richardson and the government of Sudan, that summit is scheduled to begin no later that March 15, 2007.
In a meeting with Governor Richardson in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, on January 9, rebel leaders said [that] they were prepared to honor a cease-fire and work out a common negotiating position with other rebel leaders. Two recent efforts by rebel commanders to reach agreement have been blocked by the government, which has bombed their meeting sites. The fact that President al-Bashir told Governor Richardson that he would agree to “a 60-day cessation of hostilities by all parties” puts pressure on both the government and the rebel movements to deliver.
The history of efforts to settle the war in Darfur is filled with broken cease-fire agreements. What offers some hope for success this time is the fact [that] President al-Bashir was personally involved in the discussions that led to the agreement and that the agreement could give him an opportunity to put rebel groups on the spot. He has long complained that Save Darfur and other advocacy groups like Refugees International place too much blame on the government for committing atrocities and not enough blame on the rebels. In a meeting with Governor Richardson and representatives of the Save Darfur Coalition, which has been running frequent television and print ads charging the government of Sudan with genocide, President al-Bashir complained specifically about unfair and inaccurate reporting of events in Darfur.
Sudan is also angry that it remains subject to U.S. economic and diplomatic sanctions, despite its decision to end a 21-year civil war between the government and south Sudan and recent cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. A successful peace initiative in Darfur, an underdeveloped region the size of France in western Sudan, would reduce political opposition to normalization of relations with Sudan. Normalization will be impossible as long as the war continues.
The statement contains many other elements, including government pledges to improve security and expand humanitarian access in and around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, reduce bureaucratic barriers for personnel of relief agencies working in Sudan, facilitate travel by journalists to Darfur, and review the government’s programs for responding to incidents of rape and violence against women. Again, however, these are commitments that the government of Sudan has made before, only to renege on them.
Governor Richardson, who has met with President al-Bashir twice before to secure the release of Americans being held captive in Sudan, came to Sudan under the sponsorship of the Save Darfur Coalition, a large grass-roots movement dedicated to ending the war in Darfur, where more than 400,000 people have died of war-related causes and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003. He came with two goals: to push for a process, including a cease-fire, to get peace talks moving again, and to press Sudan to accept UN troops as part of an expanded peacekeeping force. During his talks with a wide range of people, he concluded that finding an opening for new peace talks is the most urgent need, since peacekeepers can’t be successful if there is no peace to keep. The size, composition and command structure of an expanded peacekeeping force remain under discussion, although Sudan is so far honoring the terms of two November agreements with the AU and the UN on augmenting the current AU force of 7,000.
The government of Sudan and one of three rebel groups signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) on May 5, 2006, but the pact, brokered by the U.S., has been a failure. Darfur is less secure today than before the DPA was signed. One reason is that fighting intensified between the rebel group that signed the agreement and the two that refused to sign. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of rebel groups, which has led to an increase in government attacks, including attacks on civilians.
Despite the failure of the DPA, the government and other analysts believe [that] the agreement at least set in place a process for resolving the major issues behind the war in Darfur—sharing political power, initiating economic development, compensating war victims for losses and beginning a region-wide reconciliation process. This is why the government wants to preserve the basic structure of the DPA, yet it has said that it is prepared to amend or add to the agreement. President al-Bashir reaffirmed that flexibility today.
Jan Eliasson, the UN’s envoy to Sudan, is in Khartoum and is scheduled to meet with President al-Bashir tomorrow. Among other things, he will pursue the opening created by the joint statement. Governor Richardson met twice with Mr. Eliasson in Khartoum. He also spoke about the statement by phone with Salim A. Salim, the AU’s peace negotiator for Darfur.
The joint statement negotiated by Governor Richardson gives the AU and the UN a chance to create a new peace process over the next few months. Now it is up to the government and the rebels to show that they want to end the fighting and are prepared to make the necessary compromises to do so.
RI President Ken Bacon accompanied Governor Richardson on his mission to Sudan at the request of the Save Darfur Coalition.