Sudan, Darfur rebels sign ceasefire deal

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Doha - The Sudanese government on Tuesday night signed a ceasefire agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a rebel group in Darfur, in a big step toward ending seven years of conflict.

The temporary ceasefire deal was considered a prelude to a permanent peace agreement, which has to gain the support of other rebel groups in the western Sudanese region.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir signed the long-awaited truce with Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the rebel group JEM.

Al-Bashir said the signature was a significant step toward ending conflicts in Darfur and he hoped a final peace accord could be sealed by mid-March.

Ibrahim said the truce, breaking up years of standstill in the western Sudanese region's peace process, would take effect at midnight.

He hailed the framework deal as a very important step forward.

Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, Qatari Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Eritrean President Isaias Afworki and officials from the United Nations, Arab nations and the United States were also present at the signing ceremony.

TV footage from Doha-based Al-Jazeera showed leaders shaking hands and embracing after the signing of the historic deal.

Khartoum and the JEM, led by Khalil Ibrahim, initially reached the ceasefire framework deal on Saturday in Chad, wrapping up several rounds of hard negotiations and talks.

The framework would stipulate future peace negotiations, including a permanent ceasefire deal expected to be finalized by mid-March, ahead of the country's April presidential and legislative elections.

Sudan has expressed the hope that other rebel groups could also return to negotiations with the government, but the hardline Sudan Liberation Army has so far shunned the offer.

Four of the smaller rebel groups, also present in Doha, on Tuesday said they had come together as the Liberation Movement for Justice and expressed the will to engage in face-to-face talks with Khartoum.

Qatari, the mediator of the Darfur peace process, said it seeks to establish a development bank in Darfur at a capital of $2 billion to help the development of the Darfur region.

The world's top liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter has hosted several rounds of talks between Khartoum and rebel groups in the past years and also called on other Arab nations to help reconstruct Darfur.

Qatari also called on the other rebel groups to join the peace process to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the conflicts in Darfur.