UNITED NATIONS - Former South African president Thabo Mbeki said Monday “it is possible and necessary” to conclude a peace agreement on Darfur before Sudan holds general elections in April.
He told the U.N. Security Council that during a visit to Darfur just over a week ago a broad spectrum of leaders of Darfur’s civil society said “the situation was ripe to effectively accelerate the peace process.”
Mbeki briefed the council on a 125-page report prepared by a nine-member African Union panel which he chaired on what could be done to accelerate moves toward peace, justice and reconciliation in Darfur, which has been wracked by conflict since early 2003.
In the report, which the African Union endorsed, the panel insisted “on everything being done” to enable the people of Darfur to participate in both the 2010 general elections and any national dialogue that might take place around a critical referendum in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent, he said.
“We were concerned that should the people of Darfur feel excluded in any way from both the elections and consideration of matters relating to the referendum, this would serve to underline their marginalization and disempowerment, which were a central cause of the armed uprising which started in 2003,” Mbeki said.
“For this reason, we thought it was important that the Darfur negotiations should be concluded before the impending general elections,” he said.
Mbeki told the council the panel believes that “a broad consensus exists in Darfur and Sudan” on the elements for a peace agreement.
The people of Darfur want a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible, he said, and the panel believes “it is both possible and necessary that this objective is achieved without much delay.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council the chief U.N.-AU mediator, Djibril Bassole, has been working with the government of Qatar to generate momentum by giving civil society “a strong voice” at peace talks.
Representatives of civil society and armed movements have agreed to resume consultations in Doha on Jan. 18, and direct talks between the government and the movements will follow on Jan. 24, the U.N. chief said.
“Efforts must continue to encourage the government, and more especially the rebel movements, to make concessions, and embrace the consensus which Mr. Bassole is building,” Ban said.
He said the AU panel and the international community have “a critical role to play” in sending a strong message to all parties that they must engage in the negotiations that Bassole is leading.
Mbeki stressed that a peace deal must balance the objectives of peace, justice and reconciliation.
Emphasizing one at the expense of the others will not bring a “just and stable peace” for the people of Darfur, he warned.
The panel’s report noted the Sudanese government’s inaction in holding perpetrators of crimes in Darfur accountable. It recommended initiatives aimed at achieving justice and reconciliation in Darfur, including the formation of a special “hybrid” court with Sudanese and African Union judges and a truth and reconciliation commission.
Mbeki made no mention of these initiatives or the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court on March 4 for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The secretary-general stressed “the importance of compliance” with the Security Council resolution that referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.
The African Union has now appointed Mbeki to chair a broader follow-up panel to help implement the recommendations on Darfur and the 2005 north-south peace deal, and to promote “the democratic transformation of Sudan.”
The Security Council welcomed Mbeki’s report and underlined its appreciation “for the balanced and comprehensive nature of the recommendations to promote peace and reconciliation in Darfur.” It called on all parties to participate in peace talks.
A council statement said members also look forward to implementation of the “holistic approach to the situation facing Sudan and support efforts aimed at peaceful and democratic transformation of Sudan.”