Sudan Relents on Darfur Ahead of Security Council Sanctions Deadline

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Sudan's pledge to end hostile military flights over the troubled western region of Darfur, a step that has brought new optimism that the deadly conflict may have seen its worst days, came just days before Khartoum was to face U.N. Security Council action.

Draft peace accords signed Tuesday come less than a fortnight before a Security Council deadline for Sudan to demonstrate its commitment to ending the 21-month conflict, or face sanctions against its oil industry.

Khartoum's foreign ministry has not said what prompted the Islamic government to change its mind on the no-fly zone proposal, which it previously opposed.

The Africa Union, which has been mediating talks between the government and two rebel groups, welcomed the agreement but warned that there was still a long way to go in finding a solution to a conflict that has killed 70,000 people and displaced another 1.8 million.

"It's a step in the right direction," AU chairman and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said after the parties signed two draft peace accords in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

Obasanjo warned that the accords "won't be worth the paper they are written on if they are not scrupulously implemented on the ground."

Under the agreement, the government undertakes to stop military flights over Darfur, where rebels and eyewitnesses say civilian targets have been bombed by warplanes.

Khartoum is also obliged to disarm a pro-government militia known as the Janjaweed, whose fighters have been blamed for most of the killings and other atrocities.

The government and rebel groups are required to reveal the location of their forces to African Union cease-fire monitors, to facilitate the process of disarming them.

The accords also deal with humanitarian issues and stipulate that aid workers should be given free access to refugees, who are crowded into makeshift camps.

Humanitarian agencies say disease and malnutrition are rampant in these camps, where many are dying because of inadequate relief assistance.

Spokesmen on both sides of the conflict hailed the agreements, expressing hopes for a speedy improvement of the situation in the war zone.

The United Nations has termed the conflict in Darfur the most serious humanitarian situation in the world today. U.N. officials are already in Sudan to probe genocide allegations in that area.

Meanwhile, Khartoum has promised to begin implementing part of a peace deal it signed with the southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in January 2005, even if the comprehensive peace deal is not signed by then.

The Khartoum-SPLA deal seeks to bring an end to Sudan's two-decade-old civil war, but the imminent breakthrough has been overshadowed by the more recent and separate Darfur conflict.

Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, told reporters in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that from January 2005, a wealth-sharing agreement would begin to be implemented.

As part of the peace deal, the two parties have agreed to a 50/50 sharing of oil revenues earned from crude pumped in areas now controlled by the SPLA.

Most of Sudan's oil is produced in the southern region under SPLA control. The rebel group will not get revenues from oil pumped in government-controlled areas.

Sudan currently pumps 300,000 barrels of oil a day, although experts predict that the output could climb to 800,000 barrels a day by 2010, provided the country can continue to attract foreign investment.

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