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November 15, 2008

The ICC's possible indictment of Sudan's president continues to provide leverage for a peace process . But many remain skeptical.

In July, the chief prosecutor of the ICC sought an arrest warrant for Omar Al-Bashir on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Sudan, not surprisingly, wants the UN Security Council to suspend any proceedings for a year. ( China, Arab and African countries have sided with Al-Bashir.)
After more than 5 years of relentless bombings and attacks resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions, Al-Bashir declared:
""I hereby announce our immediate unconditional ceasefire between the armed forces and warring factions provided that an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and be observed by all involved parties."

Just like that.

Ban Ki Moon welcomed Al-Bashir's declaration of an immediate ceasefire as well as the intention by the government of Sudan to disarm all the militias, but added a note of caution, saying the world expects "concrete progress".

But a Western diplomat said the government had to meet a set of criteria in order to seek a deferral of the indictment:
1. Faster deployment of the UN-African Union force (UNAMID),
2. cessation of hostilities,
3. a better environment for displaced people and humanitarian aid workers,
4. uninterrupted implementation of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement.

This ceasefire, if it held, would satisfy only one of those criteria. What is more, the president announced the ceasefire with a caveat
"provided that an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and be observed by all involved parties".
And what "effective monitoring system" could that be? "There are no forces that can monitor the ceasefire," said Foreign Minister Deng Alor of the SPLM. "The decision to call for a ceasefire is a positive thing, but then it has to be made to work."

Ali Hassan, the head of UNAMID in southern Darfur, said "The government has put something concrete on the table for discussion. It puts on the table ... almost all the issues the rebels have demanded." (AP)
But Darfur's rebel leader, Abdul Wahid, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, said the rebels will not accept any ceasefire until the janjaweed are disarmed.
"We need action not words from them, It's not a matter of the ceasefire, it's a matter of stopping the genocide ... We don't trust these people."(AP)

Darfur's rebels have split into some 12 different groups. This ceasefire by Al-Bashir has tossed the ball squarely in their court. They will now be under pressure from outside players, including the US and even the government of Chad. This week the Chadian and Sudanese governments normalized relations by once again exchanging ambassadors.

Darfur activists in the US are pushing President-elect Barack Obama to make Darfur a top tier issue when he takes office in January. Obama has called the crisis "a collective stain on our national and human conscience" and said he would make ending it a priority on "day one". He has promised to appoint a special envoy to deal with the Darfur issue and to implement the now disintegrating Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which ended 22 years of a bloody war between the North and South in which more than 2 million people were killed.

When I visited southern Sudan (twice) this year, it was clear the people are braced for a possible return to fighting. Al-Bashir and his cabal in Khartoum have not lived up to their part of the agreement. The attack this year by Sudanese forces on town of Abeyei, in the oil rich borderland of the south, signaled the precariousness of the north/south relations.

As for Darfur's refugees, they do not believe any peace process can take place while Omar Al-Bashir is in power.
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