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Will peace return to Darfur?

Jem fighters
For years, Jem fighters have presented a threat to the government in Khartoum

With the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan's president, the BBC's James Copnall considers if Darfur will find real peace.

For years the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) has represented perhaps the biggest military threat from Darfur to the Sudanese government.

Jem was the only Darfuri rebel group able to strike into the Sudanese heartland around the River Nile.

In May 2008, Jem fighters launched a daring raid on Omdurman, the city just over the Nile from the capital Khartoum, and the site of the parliament.

Omar al-Bashir
The deal with Jem also means President Bashir will get a tremendous boost in his campaign for April's presidential election

The attack failed, but it did show the daring and ambition of Khalil Ibrahim's rebel movement.

Now this framework agreement, which includes a ceasefire, will be a tremendous relief for President Omar al-Bashir and his government.

If the ceasefire is respected - and it is a big if - a major military threat will have been neutralised.

This is particularly important in the run-up to next year's referendum on possible southern independence, following a separate civil war which ended in 2005.

Aid agencies and human rights groups have warned of a possible return to north-south conflict.

Whether or not this happens, minimising the threat in Darfur will give the north a much stronger hand.

The deal with Jem also means Mr Bashir will get a tremendous boost in his campaign for April's presidential election.

Compensation

Jem has much to gain too.

The framework agreement, which sets out the topics for the forthcoming more detailed talks, includes a provision for power-sharing.

SEARCH FOR PEACE
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 says it has captured key town of Muhajiriya
Feb 2009: Khartoum and Jem sign a deal to talk
Feb 2010: Khartoum and Jem sign a ceasefire as part of a framework agreement

Jem would participate in "every level of government (executive, legislative…)", according to article 3 of the provisional agreement, which the BBC has seen.

The rebel movement should turn into a political party once it signs a final deal.

There are also articles on wealth-sharing, compensation and the safe return of displaced people and refugees.

Millions still live in rough camps, usually situated on the outskirts of big towns.

Small, temporary housing has pushed up haphazardly, like pimples on an adolescent's face.

Those fleeing the Darfur fighting have seen a temporary life made permanent: there are schools, commerce, the semblance of a life, however difficult.

But this provisional deal will certainly not solve all of their - and Darfur's - problems.

Camp politics

Firstly agreements have not been respected in the past.

Darfur map

Some commentators are already suggesting Jem is the most likely of the rebel groups to return to the fold.

Its leadership is made up of Islamists - like President Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) - who have elements of a common political vision with those in power in Khartoum, however much else divides them.

Secondly - and crucially - this deal is with only one of the many Darfur rebel groups.

The Abuja accord of 2006 failed because only the Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minawi, of the major faction leaders, signed up to it.

Several of the small groups may jump on the bandwagon.

But the SLA-Abdul Wahid faction, which possibly has the most support, in the camps for the displaced at least, has refused to enter into talks with the government.

Whether it ultimately succeeds or fails, it will undoubtedly have changed the dynamic in Darfur

If the Jem fighters are integrated into the Sudanese armed forces, the military position of SLA-Abdul Wahid could worsen considerably.

Equally, the new prominence of Jem could push other rebel groups to violence, to win their place in the sun.

Thirdly, some of the insecurity in Darfur now is not down to rebel groups.

Some of those responsible for car-jackings and kidnappings are simply armed gangs; it is sometimes alleged some of these have links to the government.

Finally, the Arab militias that fought on the side of Mr Bashir will need to be included in any truly comprehensive accord.

A woman at a camp for the displaced in Darfur
Thousands have been displaced by the seven-year conflict

Whatever its long-term effects, the Jem-government deal has already had a profound impact on the political landscape.

Jem will presumably be awarded some sort of political power in Darfur at the end of the talks this framework agreement ushers in.

Jem is already suggesting the elections should be pushed back.

Some opposition politicians, perhaps worried about the power-sharing arrangements, or the electoral shot in the arm President Bashir will get from the agreement, are calling for this too.

The NCP has already said the polls should be held on time.

The next few weeks and months should prove fascinating.

Negotiations on a final settlement between Jem and the government are due to end by mid-March, an ambitious target.

The first real test of the value of this provisional deal will come on the ground, as the displaced, peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and ordinary Darfuris wait to see if the security situation improves at all.

Few people saw this deal coming.

Whether it ultimately succeeds or fails, it will undoubtedly have changed the dynamic in Darfur.



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