Sudan’s government has signed a deal with the leading rebel group in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement – a breakthrough after many months of stalled negotiations. While the news is certainly promising, a remark from the sidelines of peace talks underway in Doha seemed to capture the mood of cautious optimism: “This is not the end,” said Al-Tahir al-Feki, a rebel official. “It is the beginning of the end.”
Indeed, the agreement signed this weekend in the N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, and confirmed today is not a comprehensive peace deal but lays out the framework for further negotiations between the Sudanese government and JEM.
As part of this commitment to further talks, Khartoum said it would commute the death sentences and release some of the JEM rebels imprisoned after an attack on Sudan’s capital city in 2008. The agreement also identified topics to be addressed in direct talks, including compensation for Darfuris affected by more than seven years of conflict, access for aid groups, where more than three million people are still displaced from their homes, and power and wealth sharing for a region long neglected by the central government.
With the framework in place, key figures began arriving in Doha today, including President Bashir, Chadian President Idriss Deby, JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim, and U.S. Special Envoy Maj. General Scott Gration.
Notably, the agreement is essentially a bilateral agreement between Khartoum and JEM (although the Chadian government was heavily involved in discussions), leaving out the many other Darfuri rebel groups present in Doha who expect to have a seat at the table. While JEM benefits from being the only group representing Darfur, the failed Darfur Peace Agreement signed in 2006 between the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Mini Menawi and the Sudanese government should stand as an example of the longer-term detriment of expecting just one group to speak on behalf of a region with longstanding grievances. As Enough’s South Sudan researcher Maggie Fick remarked:
"It would be dangerous if a bilateral agreement between the Sudanese government and just one of the Darfuri rebel movements resulted in an arrangement that disempowered the people of Darfur.”
The State Department issued a brief but positive statement in reaction to the deal. The real question now is if the international community can build upon this positive momentum and work to create a comprehensive agreement that actually provides security and accountability for Darfuris on the ground.
Photo: Rebels affiliated with the Sudan Liberation Army (IRIN)