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Sudan, Chad agree "definitive end" to proxy wars

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan and Chad agreed on Tuesday to end their proxy wars and engage in direct talks and joint development projects to rebuild their war-affected border areas.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (L) shakes hands with Chad's president Idriss Deby as Gabon President Omar Bongo (bottom left), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (top) and Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade (C) look on after the signing of a peace deal during the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in Dakar, March 13, 2008. REUTERS/Normand Blouin

Chadian President Idriss Deby made a surprise visit to Khartoum for talks with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir after relations between the oil producers had hit rock bottom with each capital backing rebels fighting the other’s government.

“I came with an open heart and hands outstretched to turn a new page in Sudanese-Chadian relations,” Deby told a gathering of Chadian and Sudanese nationals in Khartoum.

He called on the armed Chadian opposition groups, who have camps in Sudan’s Darfur region, to take part in elections and win power through the ballot box not with bullets.

“I will give you security guarantees so you can return to your country and ... rejoin civil society,” Deby said of the Chadian “mercenaries”, who in 2008 besieged the presidential palace in N’Djamena.

Deby, who has asked the United Nations not to renew the mandate of its MINURCAT border monitoring mission in the east, said on Tuesday the force had not fully deployed and was unable to fulfill its mandate and protect civilians.

“Even if they had one more year they would not complete (deployment),” he said, adding the civilian component of the mission had not managed to dig a single well for water to help Chadians and Sudanese refugees there.

Deby invited Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the Darfur region bordering Chad, to visit N’Djamena in the coming days.

“This visit has put a definitive end to all the problems between Sudan and Chad,” Bashir told journalists after the talks. He said Sudanese and Chadian authorities and the presidents themselves would now be in regular direct contact.

Bashir’s adviser, Ghazi Salaheddin, told reporters the two were working to get a joint border patrol force on the ground and would undertake joint development projects including a road between Abeche in Chad and el-Geneina in Darfur, where the force’s head quarters would be.

He said a protocol signed by both sides stated that neither country would host rebel forces from the other side and that those insurgents would be encouraged to join electoral or political processes.

Both presidents said they supported the Darfur peace process taking place in Qatar, and chief mediator Djibril Bassole in Khartoum welcomed the visit.

“This visit will help the Doha talks definitely,” he told Reuters. “Now that all the belligerents are in Doha we’ll keep them there until we reach something.”

“I hope we will reach something by the end of April. At least if we reach some kind of framework agreement before the election that could help the entire peace process.”

Bashir is standing in Sudan’s first democratic elections in 24 years in April, and analysts said the rapprochement would help reduce conflict in Darfur and silence critics who say a free election is impossible while Darfur’s conflict continues.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 died in Darfur’s humanitarian crisis, which began after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003.