Sudan signed a peace accord with a small Darfur rebel group, but another larger insurgent group dismissed the deal as propaganda that will not end an almost decade-long conflict in the western region.
A counter-insurgency campaign against non-Arab rebels demanding more autonomy in Darfur in 2003 sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, prompting more than two million people to flee.
The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died, while Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000. Violence has since subsided but several rounds of peace talks have failed to secure a truce due to rebel divisions and continued military action, Reuters reports.
Ending the Darfur conflict is one of the main challenges for Khartoum after decades of conflict ended with the south which became independent on Saturday, the climax of a 2005 peace deal.
Qatar has hosted peace talks but the main rebel groups have both refused to sign a deal. Rebel divisions and continued fighting have been the two biggest obstacles to peace talks which have been ongoing since 2003 in Chad, Nigeria and Libya before moving to Doha.
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court, flew to the Qatari capital on Wednesday to attend the signing with the small Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM).
“This is for the sake of a final and comprehensive end to this painful conflict … a final solution to this conflict,” said Qatar’s ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
“The time has come for the people of Darfur to enjoy stability and be able to return to homes and live their lives,” he said in a televised speech.
But within hours of the ceremony a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) dismissed the signing as propaganda with no value.
“This will not achieve peace in Darfur because the genocide, the killing continues,” said SLA spokesman Ibrahim el-Hillu, adding that no serious issues were addressed in the deal.
Described by Sudanese state media as a final end to the conflict, analysts and diplomats see little impact as the LJM was not among the main fighting groups.
“I don’t think this will bring peace to Darfur. They (the LJM) are not among the ones that matter,” said Roger Middleton at Chatham House in London, adding the signing could provoke angry reactions from other more important groups.
The most militarily powerful group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), pulled out of the talks after the government unveiled plans to hold a referendum on the administrative makeup of the arid region.
Emboldened by Western Darfur campaigners criticising Khartoum, some rebels have been reluctant to sign a deal with Bashir believing they could reach a better deal in the future.
Diplomats say the deal was important for Bashir to showcase his willingness to tackle Darfur as he might now get tougher on the main rebels.
But there were few signs the agreement would be implemented like in a 2006 peace agreement that failed, analysts say.
Last week, Bashir said Sudan will not attend any more mediation talks abroad on the African country’s conflict.