KHARTOUM, November 13 – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has called an immediate ceasefire in Darfur and a campaign to disarm feared militias in a speech dismissed by rebels as a propaganda stunt for the West.,
Bashir spoke after hearing the recommendations of a government-sponsored peace initiative, a cornerstone of Sudan’s campaign to suspend international legal proceedings against him but controversial for excluding Darfur rebels.
"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," said Bashir.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the call for a ceasefire, saying the world expects "concrete progress," his office said.
Ban "welcomes President Omar al-Bashir’s declaration of an immediate ceasefire between the government of Sudan and the armed movements in Darfur as well as the intention by the government of Sudan to disarm all the militias," his spokeswoman said in a statement.
Bashir called for "an immediate campaign to disarm the militias and restrict the use of weapons amongst armed forces," in apparent reference to feared Arab militia that Khartoum is accused of backing.
"We confirm our commitment of negotiations to reach peaceful solutions which guarantee the eradication of disputes," Bashir told a conference attended by visiting Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, ambassadors and UN officials.
A committee from the so-called people’s initiative would contact rebels "to call them to come and take part in peace negotiations," Bashir said.
Sudan has made similar pledges in the past that failed to produce results, and most powerful Darfur rebel group said it could have nothing to do with a ceasefire that lacked a negotiated framework agreement.
"This has been done time and time again," Taher el-Faki, London-based chairman of Justice and Equality Movement’s legislative assembly, told AFP.
Faki said JEM would "only go for a ceasefire when there is a framework agreement and declaration of principles so we are not interested in what Bashir is saying. It is rhetoric and propaganda."
Despite a recent surge in fighting in North Darfur, Bashir said the initiative constitutes a "strong base" for negotiations as Khartoum eyes a possible peace conference in Qatar before the end of the year.
JEM has signalled it will not participate in any such conference and it remains unclear whether any of the other many rebel groups fighting the Sudan government and its proxy militias will attend.
Four months ago, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court demanded an arrest warrant for Bashir on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where war has raged since 2003.
Sudan refuses to recognise the court and has launched a diplomatic charm offensive to persuade the UN Security Council to invoke a one-year suspension of any legal proceedings.
Pledging to pursue Darfur "criminals" through the Sudanese judicial system and promising millions of dollars in aid and development, Sudan wants to convince the West that it is serious about promoting peace.
The chief international mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassole, congratulated Sudan on its "laudable" political dialogue that he said gave "new momentum" to stalled peace negotiations.
UN officials say up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million others have fled their homes since the Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan insists the death toll stands at 10,000.
Analysts said words must translate into practical steps if Sudan wanted to win Western support in suspending the ICC process.
"It seems that he is starting to tick some of the boxes, unconditional ceasefire, monitoring of the ceasefire, but it needs to be more complete and more comprehensive," said Sudan analyst Fouad Hikmat.
Amnesty International said there had been other ceasefire declarations but "none of them have made any difference for ordinary Darfuris" who remain "at the mercy of armed groups, bandits, and elements of the Sudanese armed forces.
Success of any truce is likely to depend on the ability of the undermanned and poorly equipped UN-led peacekeeping force to provide accountability in any ceasefire monitoring mechanism and on the rebels’ response.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir in July of ordering his forces to annihilate non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and the use of rape to commit genocide.
ICC judges have requested more evidence before deciding whether to issue a warrant for Bashir, who seized power 19 years ago in a coup.
The African Union and Arab League have asked the United Nations to delay an ICC decision on a Bashir warrant.