Sudan’s transitional government initialed a peace deal with rebels, sparking hopes of an end to fighting that ravaged Darfur and other parts of the African nation under ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir.
The agreement inked Monday with five rebel groups paves the way to fold insurgents into the army and grant them government roles. It’s the fruit of months of intense negotiations with Sudan’s rulers, a mix of civilians who led the revolt against Bashir and military officials who once enforced his rule.
It may also decide the fate of Bashir, whose 30-year reign the army ended last year. He’s wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes during the Darfur conflict that began in 2003. The government has indicated the 76-year-old, already on trial for the 1989 coup by which he seized power, could also face the ICC’s charges.
The pact signed in the capital of neighboring South Sudan, Juba, potentially “addresses the root causes of the wars in Sudan,” said Abdallah Adam Khatir, a social studies professor at Zalingi University in central Darfur. “If the transitional government, rebels and army implement it honestly, it can lead to a major breakthrough in Sudan’s entire dynamic.”
The fighting in Darfur -- a western territory the size of France -- was some of the most notorious of the 2000s. After insurgents took up arms accusing the government in Khartoum of neglecting the region, authorities unleashed a brutal counter-insurgency campaign. The violence may have cost 300,000 lives and forced 2.5 million from their homes, according to United Nations estimates.
Sudan, where the Arab world meets sub-Saharan Africa, has known conflict for much of its six decades since independence. The Christian-majority south seceded in 2011 after waging the continent’s longest civil war against Khartoum, which pursued hard-line Islamist policies before and after Bashir took control.
Rebellions subsequently flared in two southern border states. The insurgencies have been tamed in recent years, often by scorched earth tactics that caused humanitarian crises. Rebel leaders there and in Darfur have mainly respected de facto cease-fires since Bashir’s fall, hoping to finally win concessions from Sudan’s new rulers.
Unlike the 17-year Darfur war, fighting in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states garnered little international attention.
Signatories to the deal in Juba include the Justice and Equality Movement -- Darfur’s largest rebel group -- and a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army. Another ceremony to sign the same agreements will take place later in Sudan itself.
Under the deal, the insurgents and government troops will form a joint military force of 12,000 personnel within 90 days to protect Darfur’s civilians, leading to full integration within 40 months.
Rebels are promised three posts in an expanded 14-seat Sovereign Council -- the most powerful part of the transitional government -- a quarter of roles in cabinet, and a similar proportion of seats in the legislative assembly.
The central government is also set to provide Darfur with $750 million a year in development funding.
Not everyone is on board. The larger of two factions in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which fought in the border states, is keeping away, protesting the involvement of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a notorious Darfuri warlord who’s now in government.
A part of the SLA led by Abdel-Wahid Al-Nur, who previously commanded significant support in the region, is also a holdout.
Full enactment of the deal needs a buy-in from Darfur’s internally displaced people, according to Khatir. “We want the peace building to be a bottom-up approach, not just through negotiations between elites,” while rebels who haven’t signed yet need to be encouraged to join, he said.
While most insurgents in Darfur have laid down their guns, fresh violence has roiled the region this summer. Dozens of people have been killed in village raids by members of the region’s myriad ethnic communities against rivals.
Dagalo, who once led the feared janjaweed militia that fought for Bashir in Darfur, has claimed the ex-president’s supporters are stirring up intercommunal conflict. Others though, have blamed the security services and Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces, a re-branded version of the janjaweed that’s accused of a string of violations in Khartoum and beyond.