Sudan delays Darfur peace recommendations
KHARTOUM (AFP) — Sudan on Wednesday delayed the publication of recommendations expected to pave the way for possible talks in Qatar on solving the Darfur conflict, underscoring Western concerns of "too little, too late".
Findings of the so-called Sudan People's Initiative were to be unveiled on October 30, two weeks after President Omar al-Beshir launched the project to elaborate fanfare without the presence of any anti-government rebels.
"The seven committees are editing the recommendations and have not finished yet. For this reason, we are delaying the close of the People's Initiative until the first week of November," said Industry Minister Jalal al-Dugair.
Sudan is on a diplomatic drive to persuade the UN Security Council to delay any proceedings against Beshir, who could face an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Convincing the international community it is serious about peace efforts in Darfur, where the government has been accused of brutally repressing a nearly six-year insurgency, has been part of Sudan's strategy.
UN officials estimate up to 300,000 people have died in the western region of Sudan and around 2.5 million have fled their homes since "ethnic" rebels rose up against the "Arab"-dominated government in February 2003.
The Khartoum regime says 10,000 people have been killed, dismissing other casualty statistics as a Western conspiracy.
Qatar has offered its services in helping to unblock stalled UN-led peace efforts despite continued fighting on the ground that displaced at least 24,000 people in North Darfur state last month alone.
"We hope negotiations between the government and the rebels of Darfur will start in Doha before the end of this year," said Dugair.
Multiple initiatives have tried but failed to bring peace to Darfur since the rebels took up arms, complaining of marginalisation.
Although diplomats praise the spirit of the latest initiative, they say that only clear confidence-building measures can win the trust of rebels and appease Western concerns about Khartoum's five-year history of "duplicity".
"Good vibrations are not good enough. It's a case of too little, too late. Willingness to discuss something is pretty weak at this late stage," one Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity last week.
"I don't think you can discount it completely. That would be a mistake but it needs a lot of scepticism," the diplomat added.
The West expects Sudan's cooperation on the deployment of UN-led peacekeepers, which the UN says has improved, move forward with a credible political process and cooperate better with humanitarian and the plight of the internally displaced.
An amnesty for some Darfur rebels captured after an attack on Khartoum in May and confidence-building measures for displaced people in camps sympathetic to the main rebel leaders would also be welcome, the diplomat said.
"You could change the reality of Darfur tremendously in two months if you really wanted to," said the Western official.
One issue on the initiative is possibly restructuring the three-state Darfur into one entity.
"The final say on the region will come out of the negotiations in Doha or through a referendum of the people of Darfur," said Dugair on Wednesday.
Sudan analyst Alex de Waal wrote that the single region proposal would be "a major concession to the popular demand of Darfurians, and a breakthrough in any negotiations with the movements."
De Waal said early signs were encouraging but warned Sudan against haste in linking the timetable of talks in Doha with that of the International Criminal Court, whose judges are deciding whether to issue a Beshir arrest warrant.
"It will take months to conclude the preparations necessary for a successful meeting in Doha," he wrote in a recent blog.
"Linking the Doha timetable to the ICC would be a recipe for another failure: the main lesson of all Sudanese peace processes is that they must be done right, not right away," he wrote