Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Darfur rebel group signs accord

Handshakes after the accord is signed

Sudan's most active rebel group has signed an agreement which paves the way for broader peace talks aimed at ending the six-year conflict in Darfur.

The declaration of intent was sealed a day after the deal was announced between Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement and the Khartoum government.

The accord was struck in Qatar, which has been mediating a week of talks.

It includes an end to attacks on more than two million people in refugee camps and an exchange of prisoners.

But hanging over the agreement is a proposed indictment from the International Criminal Court of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes.

And other rebel groups are refusing to talk to the government.

'Remarkable progress'

The signing between the Sudanese government and the Jem rebels was announced by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.

"I am very optimistic, as both sides are determined to end this conflict," the Qatari PM was quoted by AFP news agency as saying at a news conference after the signing.

May 2006: Khartoum makes peace with main Darfur rebel faction, Sudan Liberation Movement; Jem rejects the deal
May 2008: Unprecedented assault by Jem on Khartoum
Jul 2008: ICC calls for arrest of President Bashir
Nov 2008: President Bashir announces ceasefire
Nov 2008: ICC calls for arrest of three rebel commanders
Feb 2009: Army claims its captured key town of Muhajiriya
Feb 2009: Khartoum and Jem sign a deal in Qatar

BBC's Africa editor Martin Plaut says that by reaching this deal now, the government in Khartoum is signalling that it is moving on peace - under intense pressure from the international community.

Speaking to the BBC in New York, the Sudanese envoy to the UN described the agreement as "a very remarkable progress".

"It touches also on issues like security and safety of the IDPs [internally displaced people] and civilians, about which detailed discussions will be resumed in two weeks time," Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad said.

He rejected any suggestion that Sudan was trying to deflect attention away from the proposed ICC indictment of President Omar al-Bashir.

Jem spokesman Dr Eltahir Adam Elfaki told the BBC the key stumbling block of prisoner exchanges had been overcome.

"There was a big problem with the release of prisoners and those who have been convicted or detained by the Sudan government and by us," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"Now that has been settled and both parties commit themselves to the release of the prisoners of war between the two parties.

"This will mean now both parties will stay in Doha, will start putting together the jigsaws for the actual framework agreement [that] will lead to the cessation of hostilities."


A Jem spokesperson in London, Haroun Abdul Hami, told the BBC's World Today programme: "The most important point is to stop the harassment of our people in the IDP camps in addition to [urging] the government not to impede the humanitarian aid to our people."

Last week Sudan's army said it had captured the strategic Darfur town of Muhajiriya after three weeks of clashes with rebels.

Thirty people were reported dead in that fighting, and a Jem rebel commander said his forces had withdrawn voluntarily to spare civilians from government air attacks.

The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced since the conflict began six years ago.

Fighting started after African groups complaining of discrimination at the hands of Sudan's Arab-dominated government launched a rebellion.

The government admits mobilising "self-defence militias" in response, though it denies links to the Janjaweed, which has been accused of trying to "cleanse" black Africans from large swathes of territory.

The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force, Unamid, remains at only about half its planned strength of 26,000, a year after the UN took joint control of the mission.

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