Peacekeepers pushing Darfur rebels to ceasefire
EL FASHER, Sudan (AP) — A senior commander of international peacekeepers in Darfur said Tuesday the mission is encouraging rebel groups to accept a government cease-fire offer — a task made difficult by recent violence.
Maj. Gen. Emmanuelle Karenzi, deputy commander of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission, said an investigation is under way into conflicting claims by the government and rebels over who is to blame for recent violence in northern Darfur, but he said the violence should not derail a cease-fire.
"It is unfortunate," Karenzi said in his office at UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher. "But ... if the people have been fighting and one of the parties just declares a cease-fire, it is not like you are switching on and off your lights in the house. You will have incidents like this."
Rebels took up arms in Sudan's western Darfur region in 2003, citing neglect and marginalization by the central government. So far 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced last week that his government is seeking a cease-fire as part of a peace initiative. But new accusations of violence highlighted the volatility of the situation in Darfur where many cease-fires have come and gone.
Over the weekend, rebel groups said government planes bombed an area along a major northern road and a base along the border with Chad. Government officials said they were responding to a rebel attack on a relief convoy. It was not possible to independently verify the disparate claims.
Karenzi said his mission is keeping an eye on the situation on the ground and doesn't believe the fighting means a cease-fire is now out of the question.
Meanwhile, both the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur came under criticism in a report Tuesday by a panel of four independent experts tasked by a U.N. committee monitoring sanctions to assess the situation. The committee said it will study the 93-page report and deliver its review to the Security Council.
The report painted a grim picture of combatants stepping up the violence in Darfur while expanding their attacks elsewhere in Sudan and across the border into Chad.
Offensive military overflights, which are supposed to be banned, are also continuing with impunity, it said. The panel said both sides have also flagrantly violated a U.N. arms embargo.
The panel said the new U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force "has proven so far to be incapable of defending itself or the civilian population of Darfur or fulfilling its obligations to monitor the arms embargo."
The panel recommended the Security Council consider widening the arms embargo to include the entire territory of Sudan, not just Darfur, and to expand the embargo to Chad and northern parts of the Central African Republic, which borders Darfur.
A message seeking comment from Sudan's U.N. ambassador was not returned.
Karenzi said his troops and the joint U.N.-African Union mission's chief mediator, Djibril Bassole, have been in touch with rebel groups "in an attempt to rally them behind the ... political discussions and the cessation of hostilities."
It is "kind of a work in progress," Karenzi said.
Rebel groups have dismissed the government's cease-fire offer, saying it is designed to evade an international prosecution of al-Bashir on charges of genocide.
A senior official from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, Tahir al Faki, said Bassole was expected to meet with the group's leader, Khalil Ibrahim, "in the next few days."
But al-Faki played down the cease-fire offer, saying the weekend violence made peace talks difficult. Rebels from other factions have expressed similar skepticism about the government proposal.
Suleiman Marajan, a commander from the main faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army based in northern Darfur, said peacekeepers are asking the rebels to accept the cease-fire, but can't stop government troops from attacking.
"They have not been able to pressure the government on anything," he said in a satellite phone interview from northern Darfur, where he said government planes bombed again Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.