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Darfur peace plan signed, but region still dangerous

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush hailed May 8 a new agreement designed to bring peace to the Darfur region of Sudan but acknowledged much remains to be accomplished in the aftermath of what he has labeled as genocide.

The Sudanese government and Darfur’s largest rebel group signed a peace plan May 5 in an effort to end a three-year conflict that has left 200,000 to 450,000 people dead and more than two million homeless, according to various estimates. Two other rebel factions, however, refused to sign the agreement, according to The Washington Post.

The agreement includes the following:

— The government-sponsored militia, known as the Janjaweed, will be disarmed by mid-October.

— Rebel forces will be dismantled after the Janjaweed has been disarmed, and some of the rebels will join Sudan’s military and police.

— The largest rebel faction, the Sudan Liberation Movement, will have the fourth highest position in the Sudanese government in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum.

— The rebel groups will control Darfur’s regional government, and a 2010 referendum will be held to determine if the region will have a single governing body.

— Khartoum will give $30 million in compensation to victims in Darfur.

“Last week we saw the beginnings of hope for the people of Darfur,” Bush said from the White House. “We’re still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear. But we can now see a way forward.”

The president commended Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick, who brokered the agreement in three days of negotiations in Nigeria but admitted fulfilling it would be hard work.

“Do I hope there will be a significant decline in violence? Yes. Can I be certain? No,” Zoellick told reporters after the pact was announced, according to The Post. The plan is “an opportunity for peace,” but Darfur “is going to remain a dangerous place,” he said.

Unlike Sudan’s two-decade-old, north-south conflict that was based largely on religious differences, the human rights crisis in Darfur primarily was the result of ethnic differences. After rebel forces attacked government bases, the Arab militias supported by the Islamic regime in Khartoum instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in rampant killing, rape, torture and kidnapping, as well as the destruction of hundreds of villages.

“I’ve called this massive violence an act of genocide, because no other word captures the extent of this tragedy,” Bush said.

The United States has fulfilled its commitment to help feed 6 million people for the next several months, the president said. The United Nations World Food Program had to cut its food rations in half, however, because of a lack of funding from other sources. Bush urged Congress to approve his proposal of another $225 million in food aid to Sudan.

The peace agreement came five days after tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the genocide in Darfur. Religious leaders, political figures, human rights activists, entertainers, and survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Cambodia, Kosovo, Srebrenica, Rwanda, southern Sudan and Darfur spoke at the April 30 rally. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was among the speakers.

In January 2005, a peace treaty in Sudan brought an end to a war marked by what has also been described as a genocidal campaign by the militant Islamic regime against Christians and animists in southern Sudan and moderate, African Muslims. More than 2 million people died, and about 4 million were displaced during the conflict.

After a fact-finding trip to Sudan, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported in late March that peace in that religious conflict has not been implemented in some areas of the country, and religious liberty and other human rights have not been protected consistently. The peace in Sudan is “very fragile,” USCIRF Chairman Michael Cromartie said. “Sustained, close engagement by the United States is necessary” if peace is to be established, he said.

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