March 18, 2010 / 1:22 PM / 10 years ago

Sudan signs deal with second Darfur rebel group

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan signed a ceasefire deal with a second Darfur rebel group on Thursday, part of a government push to resolve the conflict in Sudan’s violent west before elections next month.

Government officials signed the deal with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella group of small factions, in Qatar, weeks after Khartoum inked a now faltering accord with Darfur’s powerful insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Rebels groups, including JEM, have dismissed the LJM as insignificant and are still refusing to deal with Khartoum seven years after the start of the conflict.

Darfur’s mostly non-Arab rebels splintered after the early years of the fighting which surged in 2003.

Their fragmentation, and remaining deep distrust between the warring parties, has bedeviled repeated efforts to get insurgents round the negotiating table with Khartoum.

Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told reporters in the Qatari capital Doha, where peace negotiations have been taking place for months, that Thursday’s deal was an important step.

“We call on all movements and factions including Justice and Equality Movement ... to join in serious and honest negotiations as soon as possible,” he said.

Negotiations between JEM and Khartoum, which were supposed to follow last month’s ceasefire and pave the way to a final peace deal by March, are stalled.

“MEAINGLESS”

JEM had earlier threatened to leave Qatar altogether if Khartoum signed the deal the Liberation and Justice Movement, which JEM dismissed as a collection of largely bogus groups with no military firepower or support.

JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki on Thursday dismissed the new deal, but said JEM had no immediate plans to leave Doha.

“The ceasefire is meaningless. It is a ceasefire without any fire,” he said, speaking just before the signing. “We will not leave Doha. We cannot respond now in a reflex reaction. We will see how it (the new accord) goes.”

Al-Feki said JEM would support the new deal if the factions under the LJM agreed to join its forces and negotiate with Khartoum as one organization.

JEM is demanding Khartoum delay April’s presidential and legislative elections, saying they would be a farce in Darfur without a full peace deal.

Taha said the vote would not be postponed. “We want to combine the best (of both worlds) and that is holding timely elections and making it possible for the people of Darfur to participate in them.”

No one was immediately available to comment from the LJM, which includes a number of splinter groups from JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army.

Thursday’s agreement included a temporary ceasefire that would be renewed as talks progressed and a “framework deal” listing topics for further negotiations between the LJM and Khartoum, a diplomatic source close to the talks told Reuters.

Khartoum mobilized mostly Arab militias to crush the 2003 uprising, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists have called genocide.

Khartoum, which dismisses the accusation, says 10,000 have died in the conflict, much lower than one U.N. estimate of 300,000.

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Cairo; Editing by Alison Williams

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