Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 February 2009
Issue No. 935
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

What would become of Sudan? Dina Ezzat seeks an answer from concerned officials and interviews Minni Arko Minnawi, a controversial Darfur leader who is now in peace with the challenged regime of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir

Reach out for Darfur

Minni Arko Minnawi tells Al-Ahram Weekly that Egypt can be a prime mediator securing comprehensive peace in Sudan

Minni Arko Minnawi

Of the many Darfur figures who fought hard against the regime of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, it was Minni Arko Minnawi who signed a peace deal with the Khartoum regime in 2006. And it is Minnawi who now serves as assistant to the president of Sudan.

This week, hours after the signing of a declaration of intent in Doha between the Khartoum government and a leading Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, Minnawi arrived in Cairo for talks with top Egyptian and Arab League officials.

Following a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday morning, Minnawi expressed support for all "moves and agreements" that could bring peace and stability to Darfur. Minnawi, however, was not short on scepticism with regard to whether the Doha declaration of intent could lead to peace on the ground.

In interview with Al-Ahram Weekly after meeting with Mubarak, Minnawi expressed the reason for his scepticism. First of all, he said, any agreement that "is based on the inclusion of some Darfur forces and the exclusion of others is unlikely to bring about peace". "Who will implement this agreement on the ground? If there are some who subscribe to this deal and others who do not then how could we secure the implementation of any agreement?" he asked.

Minnawi himself in 2006 was signatory to the Aboudja Agreement "alone with the Sudanese government". While excusing himself for pursuing an agreement with Al-Bashir's regime away from every other rebel group, Minnawi argued that the deal he signed was discussed, even if not agreed to, by all rebel groups for three years.

That said, Minnawi accepts that Aboudja did not work. And he acknowledges that the fact that it excluded some forces led to this failure. Today, however, Minnawi seems keen to pursue steps that would lead to a comprehensive Darfur deal. The rebel leader, who does not want to speak much about Doha or about Aboudja, is keen to look to the future.

Much criticism having been levelled against the UN-African Union mediator role in managing the Doha talks, Minnawi argues that the time is ripe for a new mediator with sufficient awareness of the history of the Darfur problem and considerable contacts with all concerned groups. "To me, Egypt seems to be an obvious choice for this task," he said. Minnawi said that he expressed this wish to President Mubarak during their talks. He did not say, however, whether he got a clear promise of action from Cairo.

"I briefed the president over the situation in Darfur and told him that it is becoming very difficult to sustain the difficulties and tragedies on the ground. The president promised commitment to resolve the Darfur crisis and to promote peace across Sudan," he said.

"It is not just that Egypt is aware of the details of the problem; it is also that Egypt has all the good contacts, both at the regional and international levels. This is crucial to secure a peace deal and make it happen on the ground," he added.

Any new and comprehensive agreement, Minnawi said, would need to include parts of what was agreed to in Aboudja and in the Doha declaration of intent. But it would have to do so in a way that makes room for the inclusion of views of other Darfur rebels, he said.

"Time is crucial," Minnawi said. Action should be prompt, he added. "Darfur forces have to be contacted and a line of agreement has to be drafted and then a comprehensive meeting called for."

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