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Sudanese President Announces Darfur Cease-fire, Rebels Reject Claim

BY Admin  November 12, 2008 at 12:56 PM EDT

African Union troops in Darfur

Bashir’s cease-fire announcement marks the government’s latest appeal to the U.N. Security Council to suspend a request for an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court that accuses Bashir of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

The cease-fire would disarm militias — a key rebel demand — but would not order a cease-fire by Sudanese government troops in Darfur, the Associated Press reported.

“I hereby announce our immediate unconditional cease-fire between the armed forces and the warring factions, provided that an effective monitoring mechanism is put into action and observed by all involved parties,” Bashir said in his announcement.

The cease-fire was a recommendation from the Sudan People’s Initiative, a forum set up by Bashir in October. Rebel groups boycotted the meeting.

One of the major rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement called the cease-fire a “PR exercise.” A spokesman for JEM Ahmed Hussein said it was an attempt “to fool everybody,” but told Reuters that JEM was willing to negotiate.

“If the AU and U.N. mediators want to engage the conflicting parties together for a cease-fire, we are ready to discuss it,” Hussein said.

Another rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement, said it would not accept a cease-fire until after the janjaweed militias were disarmed. The Sudanese government is accused of backing the Arab militias that have led attacks against ethnic Africans in Darfur.

“We need action not words from them,” Abdulwahid Elnur, the exiled leader of SLM told the AP. “It’s not a matter of the cease-fire, it’s a matter of stopping the genocide. … We don’t trust these people.”

Despite international attempts and repeated calls for negotiation between the rebels and the Sudanese government, the violence in Darfur against civilians has continued. Since the violence erupted in early 2008, the United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million fled their homes.

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, which was intended to deploy 26,000 U.N. blue helmets to the region, has only 10,500 uniformed personnel, including troops, military observers and police officers in place as of late October, according to the United Nations.

Human rights group Amnesty International questioned how effective Bashir’s cease-fire would be in Darfur after numerous cease-fire calls since the conflict began in 2003 resulted in little change.

“This must not be another occasion where the political declarations of cease-fires do not result in any change on the ground,” the organization’s deputy director for Africa Tawanda Honora told Voice of America. “What the people of Darfur need are not political declarations. What they need is real tangible change … especially with regards to security and with regards to provision of humanitarian aid.”

Since the Bashir warrant request on July 14, Sudan tried to convince other countries that the situation in Darfur was improving, despite reports of continuing violence by Sudanese forces and government-back militias, according to Human Rights Watch.

“President Bashir’s claims about the situation in Darfur should convince no one,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch after a string of attacks on villages in October. “But whether or not the fighting continues, the victims of past atrocities deserve to see those responsible prosecuted.”

The ICC case against Bashir could have impacts on the peace of the country beyond the situation in Darfur.

On Nov. 5, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations Edmond Mulet said that the arrest warrant could derail the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 meant to restore calm in a separate conflict between the North and South. Mulet told the Security Council that an indictment could cause an uprising in Sudan against the United Nations and may lead Sudanese officials to expel U.N. personnel that had cooperated with the ICC.