African leaders met to discuss proposals meant to end the six-year-old conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, including a new court to try those accused of atrocities there.
The 15-member African Union Peace and Security Council was considering a report on Darfur by a panel of African “wise men” headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
The report recommends the establishment of a special court, including foreign judges, to try those charged with atrocities in Darfur, where the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by fighting.
“This is a seminar dedicated to addressing the political impasse in Darfur,” Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said, after arriving with his Kenyan counterpart Mwai Kibaki and South Africa’s Mbeki at a conference centre in the capital, Abuja.
“It is my hope that our work will advance enduring peace, accountability and reconciliation in Sudan,” he said.
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha was also due to attend the meeting.
Kenya said it also wanted to discuss the peace process in South Sudan, which ended a two-decade civil war with the north in 2005 but where relations remain tense particularly ahead of national elections next year and a referendum on southern independence in 2011.
“A successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (in South Sudan) would help bolster chances of a new peace deal and development pact for the Darfur region,” the Kenyan presidency said in a statement.
Mostly non-Arab rebels revolted in 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur. A counter-insurgency campaign drove more than 2 million from their homes.
The United Nations says 300 000 people died, but Khartoum rejects that figure.
Fierce fighting in the early days of the conflict has declined, replaced in many areas by a free-for-all involving bandits, rebel splinter groups and rival tribes.
“All the turbulence could spill over not only to its immediate neighbours but to the entire continent,” Jean Ping, the chairman of the AU Commission, said.
The Justice and Equality Movement, the most powerful rebel group in Darfur, on Tuesday rejected the report by Mbeki’s panel and said serious crimes committed in the region should be tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The ICC in March issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, saying he was wanted for war crimes in Darfur.
The AU report did not go into the question of Bashir’s arrest warrant, saying only that the ICC investigations should be discussed during peace talks on Darfur.
Khartoum has not yet officially reacted to the report but a government source told Reuters the initial feeling was one of “cautious welcome but with reservations on some details.”
Pic: President Umaru Yar Adua of Nigeria