AU steps up pressure on Darfur rebels

The African Union stepped up pressure on Sudan’s holdout rebels to sign a deal to end Darfur’s three-year civil war and appealed for a stronger African peacekeeping force to monitor implementation of the peace agreement signed by the government and the main rebel group.

The African Union stepped up pressure on Sudan’s holdout rebels to sign a deal to end Darfur’s three-year civil war and appealed for a stronger African peacekeeping force to monitor implementation of the peace agreement signed by the government and the main rebel group.

The holdouts had been given until today to sign. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, AU Commission Chairman Alpha Omar Konare said the African Union would push for a United Nations travel ban and asset freeze that would target those who may try to undermine the Darfur peace process and commit human rights violations in the vast, arid region.

Abdel Wahid Nur of a splinter faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and Khalil Ibrahim of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement have resisted international pressure to join the May 5 peace agreement.

The signing culminated two years of AU mediation and a last-minute push by the United States, Britain and others.

Its prospects, though, have been dimmed because not all the rebels signs, and fighting has continued in Darfur though the treaty called for a cease-fire to come into affect 72 hours after it was signed.

The two holdout groups demand additional commitments from the government on power-sharing, security arrangements and compensation for victims of a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people and forced more than 2 million to flee their homes.

In a report to the AU Peace and Security Commission, Konare appealed for beefing up the African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur with the addition of troops, civilian police, logistic capacity and operational mobility. The peace treaty opened the way for the African Union force to be replaced by UN peacekeepers, but it could be months before a UN force arrives.

Darfur has been torn by violence since rebel groups made up of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-led Khartoum government in 2003.

The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed who have been accused of some of the war’s worst atrocities. Khartoum denies backing the janjaweed but has said it will try to rein them in since the deal was signed.

Ensuring the janjaweed respect the cease-fire agreed to as part of the peace treaty is key to persuading Darfur rebels to comply with the peace deal, but there have been several janjaweed attacks since then, UN officials said.

“I urge the government of Sudan to produce its plan for the disarmament of the janjaweed and armed militia expeditiously and, in any case, within the 37 days required by the” peace agreement, Konare said.

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