SUDAN: Government to withdraw troops from Darfur - Taha
Ali Osman Mohamed Taha
ADDIS ABABA, 28 February 2005 (IRIN) - Sudanese vice president, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, reaffirmed Khartoum's commitment on Friday to the withdrawal of government forces from the troubled western region of Darfur.
Speaking in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Taha said his government had already started to pull back its forces as part of an African Union-backed ceasefire agreement, whereby Khartoum agreed to withdraw troops to lines occupied before it launched a major offensive on 8 December.
"We have started," the vice president told journalists after two hours of talks with AU commission chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare.
The move paves the way for the resumption of peace talks between the government and rebels, according to the AU.
"The withdrawal will help facilitate the peace talks to resume," the AU spokesman, Assane Ba, told IRIN.
Taha said a date for the talks between rebels and the government would be announced after the Cairo mini summit on 5 March.
The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that started in February 2003, when rebels began attacking government targets, claiming that the region was being neglected by Khartoum.
Senior AU officials told IRIN the Sudanese delegation also pledged to show restraint in Darfur, following a recent UN report that said the government, and militias allied to it, had killed, tortured and raped civilians.
The officials also pointed out that the security situation in Darfur had improved after months of violations of the peace agreement, which is monitored by the AU.
The AU reported earlier this month that the security situation in North and South Darfur had deteriorated progressively over the past four months, with unacceptable consequences for the safety of civilians.
"While all sides to the conflict in Darfur were responsible for the situation, the worst perpetrators were the Janjawid-armed militia[s]," Baba Gana Kingibe, the special representative of the chairperson of the AU commission in Sudan, said in a statement.
The governor of North Darfur, Osman Kedir, said the Sudanese government had removed all its Antonov planes from Darfur and would not use them in the area. It had previously been accused of using them to bomb villages.
The UN has described the Darfur situation as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It estimates that 2.3 million people in the region are reliant on aid to survive - more than a third of Darfur's total population. Approximately 1.85 million people have been displaced from their homes, of whom, 200,000 have fled into Chad.
Tens of thousands of villagers have also been killed or have died of famine and disease since the conflict began two years ago when rebels in Darfur took up arms against the government in February 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglect and oppression.
The Sudanese government tried to quash the rebellion with the help of an Arab militia force, known as the Janjawid. The militias are blamed by human-rights watchdog organisations for most of the atrocities in the region.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, pledged his continued support for a solution to the crisis in Darfur. His comments came after meeting Taha, state-run television reported.