June 26, 2006

AU defends embattled Darfur peace deal

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The African Union has defended a
Darfur peace deal signed by the Sudanese government and one of
three rebel groups in May against critics who had said the
agreement contains "serious flaws."

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has criticized the May
5 deal and said in a report released last week that the African
Union-mediated agreement needed a robust U.N. peacekeeping
force to avoid collapse in the remote region.

"The International Crisis Group 'Policy Briefing' on Darfur
contains some serious errors of fact and interpretation, which
are extremely unhelpful to the process of implementation," the
AU said in a seven-page reply, seen by Reuters on Monday.

Since the deal, the AU has come under attack in the camps
which house 2.5 million displaced Darfuris, and their patrols
have been obstructed by hostile armed factions who did not sign
the deal or were not present at negotiations.

Key deadlines, including receiving the government's crucial
plan to disarm proxy militias by June 22, have been missed with
no repercussions.

The AU rejected the ICG analysis that the deal contains no
guarantees for implementation.

"There are in fact no fewer than three levels of guarantees
either built into the (deal) or surrounding it," it said,
adding that U.S., European, senior U.N. officials and African
presidents who signed the deal as witnesses were guarantees.

ICG said it stood by its analysis.

"The security situation continues to be extremely
worrisome," said Dave Mozersky, ICG's Sudan researcher.

"Implementation of the (deal) is likely to be challenged by
a combination of government unwillingness, rebel divisions and
unwillingness of the international community to stand up for a
sufficiently robust peacekeeping force," he added.

Tens of thousands have been killed in three years of rape,
murder and pillage in Sudan's remote west, violence Washington
calls genocide.

While Khartoum denies the charge, the International
Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the
region, the first case referred by the U.N. Security Council to
the tribunal which is a separate body from the United Nations.

An ill-equipped 7,000-strong AU force is monitoring a
widely ignored truce in Darfur.

The AU, fast running out of cash, has asked the U.N. to
take over, but Khartoum has rejected the move. Sudan paints a
picture of a Western invasion that would attract Islamic
militants and create an Iraq-like quagmire in Darfur.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would meet
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at an AU summit in Gambia this
week to discuss Khartoum's rejection of the U.N. force, which
he described as "incomprehensible."