- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

KHARTOUM, Sudan | President Omar Bashir offered a cease-fire in Darfur on Wednesday and promised to disarm militias, a top rebel demand, in a new push by his government to show it is serious about ending the nearly 6-year-old conflict.

Darfur rebels dismissed the moves, saying they don’t trust Lt. Gen. Bashir and want to see disarmament of the feared janjaweed militias before agreeing to a cease-fire.

Gen. Bashir’s announcement is part of a high-profile campaign by Khartoum to display its readiness amid attempts to cobble together new Darfur peace negotiations mediated by the Arab nation Qatar and a U.N. envoy. It comes as the Sudanese president is trying to fend off possible genocide charges by the International Criminal Court over atrocities in Darfur.

Up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in the vast region of western Sudan since fighting erupted in early 2003. The war pits troops from the Arab-led Sudanese government against black African rebels, and Khartoum is accused of backing Arab militias known as janjaweed, said to have carried out widespread atrocities against black African civilians.

The government has repeatedly called cease-fires in Darfur in the past, but they have quickly broken down.

Gen. Bashir urged rebels to join Khartoum in peace talks, speaking at a conference of Sudanese political parties, southern Sudanese and some Darfur tribal leaders that he convened to recommend ways to move ahead with peace.

“I am sending a special message to my brothers in the armed movements to come together [with us] for a joint single word, through which we would be able to realize peace … security and stability for our people,” he told the gathering, known as the Darfur National Forum.

He announced his “agreement to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire between the armed forces and the warring factions, provided that an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and be observed by all involved parties.”

The call appeared to stop short of ordering a unilateral cease-fire by government troops in Darfur.

Gen. Bashir promised an “immediate campaign to disarm the militias and restrict the use of weapons among armed groups.” The disarming of the janjaweed has been a top demand of Darfur rebels.

In another gesture, Gen. Bashir also said his government is willing to pay compensation to Darfurians who lost their homes to help them return and rebuild.

He promised to “empower” the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force that is deployed in Darfur “to carry out its role effectively.”

A top official in the peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, welcomed the agreement and said the U.N. and Qatar would now approach rebel leaders to try to bring them into a cease-fire.

But Darfur rebel leaders rejected any immediate cease-fire.

Abdulwahid el-Nur, the exiled leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, said the rebels cannot accept any cease-fire until the janjaweed is disarmed.

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