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CHAD-SUDAN: African Union wants rival Darfur forces behind buffer zones

3/13/2006 6:00pm

© Claire Soares/IRIN

An old woman from Darfur who was forced to flee to Chad after Janjawid attacks

ABUJA, 13 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - African Union mediators in the Nigerian capital Abuja have proposed putting rival forces in Sudan’s Darfur conflict behind buffer zones after ceasefire agreements have been repeatedly ignored.

The warring sides first signed a ceasefire accord in the Chadian capital N’djamena in April 2004. But nearly two years on, mediators said on Sunday that that agreement lacks sufficient details to be effective and a new proposal - dubbed the “Enhanced Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement” - has been drafted and presented to the warring sides.

“The [draft] agreement specifies that the forces of the government and the two movements withdraw their forces to clearly identified areas, with buffer zones between them,” mediators said in a statement.

The main objectives of the new proposals are “the demilitarisation of humanitarian supply routes and camps for displaced people,” mediators said. Banditry and continued clashes in Darfur forced the UN this month to slash its programmes to assist war-displaced in the region. At times the violence has cut hundreds of thousands of people off from assistance.

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the mainly black inhabitants of Darfur, a semi-desert region the size of France in western Sudan. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militias known as the Janjawid.

Humanitarian workers estimate that more than 180,000 people have been killed in the violence and nearly two million forced to flee their homes.

AU mediators are worried that more than one year of peace talks in Nigeria has failed to achieve a breakthrough towards peace.

Sudanese government and rebel officials confirmed they have received the new proposals and would respond as demanded by the mediators. AU officials said urgent action was required from the belligerents to halt the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur.

“The government and the movements first signed a ceasefire agreement almost two years ago, but they never stopped fighting,” said Sam Ibok, head of the AU mediation team, who called conditions unacceptable. “Today, the humanitarian agencies in Darfur are reaching fewer people than they did when that ceasefire agreement was signed.”

The violence in Darfur has repeatedly spilled into eastern Chad, where some 202,000 Sudanese are living in camps. On Monday the UN refugee agency UNHCR announced that the deteriorating security situation in the area is forcing it to relocate more than 16,000 of those refugees farther in from the border. And last month UNHCR said some Chadians were even fleeing into Darfur to escape violence on their side of the border.

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