Sudan's government and Darfur rebels have agreed to a 60-day ceasefire and a peace summit sponsored by the African Union and the United Nations as steps toward stopping the violence in west Sudan, a visiting U.S. official said on Wednesday.In fairness, Khartoum and the rebels have agreed to various ceasefires and peace agreements over the last four years, not one of which has held, so this might amount to just another empty benchmark.
Sudan has also agreed to let foreign journalists visit Darfur after a two-month ban and to remove a requirement for exit visas for aid workers, one of the biggest bureaucratic obstacles to the world's largest aid operation in Darfur.
On the other hand, this press release [PDF] from Richardson contains some rather encouraging news
Both sides agreed that there was a compelling need for a comprehensive cease-fire to launch a political process based on the DPA that would lead to a durable end to the conflict as soon as possible. Both agreed to a 60-day cessation of hostilities by all parties within the framework of the DPA, accompanied by a start in African Union/United Nations diplomatic efforts, within the framework of the DPA, to begin narrowing the gaps between the non-signatories, including government approval of a field commanders' conference attended by the African Union and United Nations. This would be followed at the appropriate moment by an African Union/United Nations – sponsored peace summit, again in the framework of the DPA, no later than 15 March 2007.The Darfur Peace Agreement [DPA] was signed nearly a year ago by Khartoum and one faction of the many rebel groups and has been dead ever since. The sticking point since then has been whether to re-open new talks, essentially starting from scratch, or to try and amend the DPA in order to address the issues that prevented the other rebel groups from signing. Khartoum preferred the latter, which is not surprising considering that they only accepted the agreement "after it became apparent that at least some of the rebels would balk," while the rebels insisted on the former.
The two sides noted that Governor Richardson had secured a commitment from commanders of the Justice and Equality Movement and of the Non-Signatory Front to participate in a process including a 60-day cease fire agreement within the framework of the DPA.
But now it appears that at least this one major hurdle to revisiting a peaceful settlement has been addressed and hopefully things can move forward.
Khartoum has a record of signing these sorts of nice-sounding agreements and then attacking rebels and civilians a few days later - we'll have to see if that happens this time. If both sides can manage to hold to the 60-day ceasefire, perhaps progress can finally be made in ending this conflict peacefully.
So all hail Bill Richardson, who pulled this off with little more than the support of Save Darfur - and all hail Save Darfur for approaching Richardson to do a little freelance diplomacy. In less than a week, Richardson managed to make more progress on ending the genocide in Darfur than the Bush Administration has been able to make in four years [it will also be worth watching to see how the administration reacts to Richardson’s diplomatic coup.]