Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Good News for Darfur

The Save Darfur Coalition welcomes the agreement reached today by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir that his government and rebel groups will cease hostilities for a period of 60 days while they work towards a lasting peace.

The cease-fire was one of several issues agreed to in talks between Governor Richardson and President al-Bashir in Khartoum on Wednesday. Governor Richardson traveled to Sudan at the invitation of the Save Darfur Coalition, and was accompanied by Save Darfur Senior International Coordinator Ambassador (ret.) Lawrence Rossin, Refugees International Executive Director Kenneth Bacon, and Public and International Law and Policy Group senior attorney Amjad Atallah.

“There was positive movement on a number of issues, most notably the agreement to a cease-fire between the government and rebel groups that will immediately save lives. The agreement also creates an improved environment for a political settlement, based on the Darfur Peace Agreement, to move forward. There has been a deteriorating situation on the ground in recent weeks, clearly demonstrating an urgent need for increased international diplomacy and action,” said Ambassador Rossin.

The Save Darfur Coalition said the cease-fire agreement, which also included a number of concessions to improve humanitarian aid and media access to Darfur, must be accompanied by a new round of diplomacy involving Sudan, rebel leaders, the African Union, United Nations and other countries. “We must work to ensure that President al-Bashir and rebel leaders keep the commitments they have agreed to, and that the international community does not miss this important opportunity to press for a permanent, peaceful solution to the tragedy in Darfur,” said David Rubenstein, Executive Director, Save Darfur Coalition.

The Save Darfur Coalition will continue to press Khartoum as well, in part through active engagement in the agreed-upon “ongoing dialogue” with the Sudanese Government aimed at ending the violence in Darfur and achieving a political solution to the crises.

The two parties issued the following statement at the conclusion of their talks:

Joint Press Statement on the conclusion of the visit
by Governor Bill Richardson to the Sudan
7th - 10th January 2006

H.E Bill Richardson Governor of New Mexico accompanied by a delegation sponsored by and including members of the Save Darfur Coalition, the leading United States-based Darfur peace advocacy organization, conducted a visit to Sudan to discuss ways to secure peace in the Darfur region of Sudan and the protection of all civilians and other non-combatants. The Governor and the delegation visited EI Fasher and Nayala in Darfur, for meetings with internally displaced persons in Darfur, rebel groups that are signatories to the (DPA) as well as those which are not as of yet, international agencies, the United Nations, and humanitarian aid as well as the Wali of North Darfur and the Deputy Wali of Southern Darfur States and held meetings in Khartoum with H.E President Omer Hassan Al Bashir,Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mr. Ali Ahmed Karti and a number of high ranking Sudanese officials.

Both sides agreed that ending the conflict in Darfur is Sudan's and the international communities highest priority. Peace, they agreed, can only come through a political settlement that is joined in by and addresses the needs of all parties, on the basis of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of 5 May 2006 reiterating their support for preserving Sudan's territorial integrity and the importance of respect for Sudan's sovereignty.

Both sides agreed that there was a compelling need for a comprehensive cease-fire to launch a political process based on the DPA that would lead to a durable end to the conflict as soon as possible. Both agreed to a 60-day cessation of hostilities by all parties within the framework of the DPA, accompanied by a start in African Union/United Nations diplomatic efforts, within the framework of the DPA, to begin narrowing the gaps between the non-signatories, including government approval of a field commanders' conference attended by the African Union and United Nations. This would be followed at the appropriate moment by an African Union/United Nations - sponsored peace summit, again in the framework of the DPA, no later than 15 March 2007. Simultaneously, both agreed that the UN needed to expedite as quickly as possible the provision of UN personnel agreed in Addis Ababa and further specified in Abuja in November 2006. President Bashir re-affirmed his commitment to continue to facilitate the deployment of UN personnel and equipment consistent with his agreement with the Secretary General of the UN on Phases II and III, including the eventual conclusions of the Tripartite Committee as stipulated in the DPA.

The two sides noted that Governor Richardson had secured a commitment from commanders of the Justice and Equality Movement and of the Non-Signatory Front to participate in a process including a 60-day cease fire agreement within the framework of the DPA. Governor Richardson and Save Darfur Coalition expressed their grave concern to all parties with whom they met about continuing and increasing attacks on civilians and other non-combatants.

They reiterated that gender-based violence and such crimes must be condemned and prosecuted regardless of which party or organization was responsible, noting that Governor Richardson and the Save Darfur Coalition emphasized the need in all their meetings for implementing mechanisms to ensure that "zero tolerance" policies towards gender-based violence be applied in practice, quickly and robustly. Governor Richardson noted with appreciation President Bashir's commitment to welcome a significant contribution of female members to the AU/UN hybrid operations. Both sides expressed their grave concern at allegations of gender -based violence by United Nations personnel in South Sudan.

Governor Richardson and the delegation also met with the Under-Secretary of Justice, the Rapporteur of the Advisory Council for Human Rights and Dr. Attigatt who presented a briefing on Sudanese Government efforts to institutionalize protections for women. The Governor and the delegation accepted the offer to work with the Ministry to analyze and extend existing
efforts to support Sudanese women against all gender-based violence.

President Bashir and Governor Richardson also agreed that more light needs to be shed on the full situation in Darfur. President Bashir agreed to allow and facilitate travel by journalists from all over the world to Darfur.

The two sides underscored the need to disarm all armed groups, including the Janjaweed, pursuant to the provision of the DPA, and further agreed not to have the National military aircraft painted in white markings normally reserved for international organizations.

President Bashir agreed that government forces would attempt to improve security conditions in all areas of Darfur with special emphasis on El Geneina, and would provide protection to food and other humanitarian convoys. They also agreed that humanitarian aid agencies have greatly assisted the Government and people of Sudan by providing much needed emergency and development aid in Darfur and other parts of Sudan. President Bashir agreed to expedite procedures for entry visas for all humanitarian aid workers as well as goods. He also agreed to terminate the requirement of exit visas for humanitarian aid workers. President Bashir noted with satisfaction the strong statements by the Save Darfur Coalition to rebel commanders condemning attacks by their members on humanitarian aid operations and agreed to initiate an ongoing dialogue with the Save Darfur Coalition aimed at ending the violence in Darfur and on achieving a political solution to the crises.

The two sides agreed to apprise African Union Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim and United Nations Special Envoy Jan Eliasson of these developments, so that the African Union and United Nations will facilitate the commanders meeting and launch the political discussion and to maintain regular communication assessing progress on these important initiatives to identify areas of difficulty on which further engagement may be necessary to ensure rapid progress and durable outcomes.

Both sides agreed that an improvement of relations is in the mutual interest of both countries.

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About Ambassador (ret.) Lawrence Rossin – Amb. (ret.) Lawrence Rossin, Senior International Coordinator at the Save Darfur Coalition, is responsible for designing and leading implementation of the Coalition’s outreach to foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur. Rossin joined the Coalition after serving as Assistant Secretary General and Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and as part of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. He has also served in a number of diplomatic positions in the U.S. Department of State.

About Kenneth Bacon – Kenneth Bacon has served as the president of Refugees International since 2001. An expert in international affairs and security issues, Mr. Bacon has concentrated on expanding Refugees International’s capacity to promote more effective ways for the international community to meet the needs of refugees and displaced people. From 1994-2001, he was Assistant Secretary, Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of Defense and served as Pentagon spokesman. From 1969 – 1994, he was a reporter, editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal based in Washington, DC. Bacon is also the co-chairman of the Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping.

About Amjad Atallah – Amjad Atallah is founder and President of Strategic Assessments, a not-for-profit organization committed to providing legal and policy assistance to parties involved in negotiations in conflict and post-conflict situations, as well as a Senior Attorney with the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG). Prior to founding Strategic Assessments, Mr. Atallah advised the Palestinian negotiating team, and later Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas’ office, in peace negotiations with Israel on the issues of international borders, security, and constitutional issues. He was also responsible for liaising with US government officials in Washington, D.C. on these issues. Mr. Atallah is also co-founder and a member of the Board of Directors of Women for Women International (www.womenforwomen.org).

About David Rubenstein – David Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Save Darfur Coalition, helped organize the Coalition in 2004 and has worked since then to raise awareness about the crisis and to advocate for the protection for the people of Darfur. Rubenstein has met with world leaders, noted global advocates, refugees, and hundreds of allied organizations to discuss the crisis and how to spur the world community to action. He recently returned with from refugee camps in the eastern regions of Chad directly affected by the crisis in Darfur.

About the Save Darfur Coalition – The Save Darfur Coalition raises public awareness about the ongoing genocide in Darfur and mobilizes a unified response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of people throughout the Darfur region. It is an alliance of more than 175 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations. The Coalition’s member organizations represent 130 million people of all ages, races, religions and political affiliations united together to help the people of Darfur. For more information on the Coalition, please visit www.SaveDarfur.org.