Sudan’s president declared the war in Darfur over yesterday, announcing the release of 57 rebels a day after signing a ceasefire and initial peace deal with them.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir made his announcement at a Darfur rally after agreeing a temporary ceasefire with the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Doha on Tuesday. He also signed an agreement committing Sudan to reaching a final peace deal with the rebels by March 15.
Other Darfur rebel groups have rejected the deal and the agreement came almost exactly a year after the last Khartoum/JEM ceasefire which the rebels said broke down in a day.
“Now the war is finished in Darfur. We must start fighting the war for development,” Bashir told his supporters at the rally in the capital of North Darfur El Fasher in a recording of the speech heard by Reuters.
The United Nations estimates up to 300 000 have died since JEM and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the region. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10 000.
Bashir said the government had freed 57 JEM fighters, half the number of men imprisoned after being implicated in a shock attack on Khartoum in 2008. The releases were promised as part of the new accord with JEM.
JEM supporters mounted an unprecedented rally outside Khartoum’s Kober prison where the men were released yesterday afternoon, a Reuters witness said. JEM has been an outlawed group since it launched the 2003 Darfur revolt and public displays of support outside Darfur were unheard of.
“This is the first time that JEM is acting in front of the people, in front of the people’s eyes,” said a student who declined to give his name. “This is a big day. My brother is in prison. He is a soldier of JEM. I am a supporter of JEM.”
Death sentences lifted
More than 100 men were sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of taking part in the attack.
Bashir lifted the death sentences on Saturday after an initial signing of the deal in Chad. Sudan’s Justice Minister Abdel Basit Sabderat told reporters gathered inside Kober other prisoners would be freed as discussions with JEM developed.
A group of about 30 blue-shirted detainees were swamped by supporters as they walked out of the prison grounds on Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness said.
One of the first to be freed was Adam Abdullah al-Nur, who cried as he was surrounded by ululating women, draped in JEM campaign banners.
“My only concern is to give the people of Darfur their rights, to give any old woman or child their rights,” he said.
Another of those released, Ali Baraka Hamid, shouted from a bus shuttling the men from the prison gates: “All I want to say is up with justice, up with Khalil” in reference to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim.
JEM lawyer Adam Bakr Hassab told Reuters all 57 were released, and they included at least one senior JEM commander.
Ibrahim told Reuters in Doha his group was now ready to engage in “serious peace talks” after signing the ceasefire, part of a three-page “framework” agreement setting out the terms of the coming negotiations.
The document said JEM would turn into a political party after a peace deal and would receive government positions.
“No posts have been identified for JEM yet. We are not focusing on posts in negotiations. We are focusing on basic rights of the people: free education, health services, the needs of refugees,” Ibrahim told journalists.
He repeated JEM’s call for a postponement of Sudan’s April presidential and legislative elections set up as part of a peace deal that ended Sudan’s separate north-south civil war in 2005.
“Our position is to postpone elections in Sudan, because a majority of people are displaced outside the borders. We’re asking for more time. Otherwise we’re excluding masses of people, four to five million,” Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters.
Pic: JEM rebels