- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

A top Sudanese official said yesterday that rebel groups that have rejected a U.S.-brokered peace accord for the country’s troubled Darfur region soon will bow to international pressure and sign the agreement.

The rebel groups “are facing intense pressure, not just from our government but from the entire international community,” State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Karti told The Washington Times. “I am confident they will feel the necessity to sign on soon.”

Under heavy U.S. prodding, Khartoum and the largest faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) signed a peace deal last Friday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, designed to end a bloody three-year-old revolt that has left an estimated 300,000 dead from violence and famine and driven more than 2 million Darfur residents from their homes.

But a breakaway faction of the SLA and a second rebel group called the Justice and Equality Movement refused to sign on, and there has been rioting in some Darfur refugee camps as details of the deal were announced.

The pressure Mr. Karti spoke of appeared to be at work: The Reuters news agency reported from Abuja yesterday that SLA rebel leader Abdel Wahid Nur, who had rejected the peace agreement, said his faction was “ready to sign if there’s a supplementary document” guaranteeing more aid and power for Darfur from Khartoum.

Mr. Karti, on a four-day U.S. tour that included a meeting with lawmakers at a congressional prayer breakfast, gave no sign that his government was ready to bend to U.S. and U.N. appeals to bolster the 7,000-strong peacekeeping force deployed by the African Union in Darfur.

The Bush administration, saying the AU force has failed to stop what the United States considers “genocide” in Darfur, has pushed for a stronger force under the authority of the United Nations. President Bush on Monday called on Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to allow U.N. and NATO troops to take over an enlarged peacekeeping mission.

Some in the Sudanese government have hinted in recent days that they might be willing to accept a bigger U.N. mission, but Mr. Karti said yesterday that the AU troops “were enough for now.”

“The AU has been doing well before this agreement. Why should it not be able to do the job after the agreement?” he asked.

The Darfur conflict, which erupted just as the government was resolving a 20-year-old civil war in the country’s south, has battered the international standing of Sudan’s Islamist government. Human rights groups accuse Khartoum of colluding with brutal Arab militia groups known as the Janjaweed against the black African tribes of Darfur.

The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Khartoum. U.N. human rights officials say Sudan has failed to prosecute officials and militia leaders responsible for some of the worst violence.

Mr. Karti said it was a “fallacy” that the government organized and backed the Janjaweed, adding that the militias began as criminal gangs — both Arab and non-Arab — and that outsiders did not appreciate the tribal rivalries that lay behind the Darfur clash.

“Rather than talk about perpetrators or who should bring who to justice, we have to sit down and talk about first principles in this conflict,” he said.

Mr. Karti said the Darfur rebellion sprang from a fight for scarce resources between nomadic and herding tribes in the drought-stricken region.

“If you want true peace in Darfur, these tribes need to be reconciled and the resource issues addressed,” he said. “Nobody from outside can impose this reconciliation on them.”

Mr. Karti said his U.S. trip — his first visit to America — was intended in part to express his government’s gratitude for U.S. support in ending the north-south conflict and U.S. efforts to mediate a Darfur peace deal.

The Bush administration also has sent emergency food aid to Sudan and is seeking an additional $525 million in aid from Congress.

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