At the weekend, leaders of the Justice and Equality Movement signed a ceasefire agreement with the Sudanese government which could lead to a final settlememt as early as next month. Good news from a part of the world that has had precious little to cheer about. But hang on, haven’t we been here before? Yes we have. Pretty much a year ago to the day…
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.
A couple of months later, I sat on a woven rug in the desert of North Darfur with Khalil Ibrahim, leader of Jem. We watched an Antonov fly overhead as he explained why his armed group would not be returning to the talks.
“We signed the good intentions agreement to see if the government had good intentions or not. We asked them to release our captured brothers in Khartoum and not execute them,” he said. “The government has refused to release these prisoners.
So is there any reason to be more optimistic this time around? Well, yes and no (always the only sensible matter when it comes to questions Sudanese).
It appears that the question of Jem prisoners captured in the assault on Omdurman two years ago has been resolved, with the government promising to release them.
But more importantly, Jem is running out of hiding places. Last month Sudan and Chad agreed to “normalise” relations, setting up a joint border patrol and halting support for rival rebel movements. If implemented, that means Jem will no longer be able to slip across the border to bases in Chad. I’ve never been sure just how much support Jem received from N’Djamena, but there is no doubt Khalil is under greater pressure now to seek an accommodation.
So the peace talks between Jem and Khartoum have a greater chance, this time around, of producing results. But, given the fragmentation of the rebel movements, and the fact that many people in Darfur are not represented – Janjaweed, Arab tribes who have not taken part in the conflict, other tribes with little time for the rebels – the millions of people living in aid camps face little prospect of a rapid return home.