Rebel leaders from Darfur have ended a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, with a commitment to allow free access by humanitarian agencies to people affected by the western Sudanese conflict.
They also pledged to stop hostilities against aid organisations and African Union (AU) peacekeepers deployed in the volatile region, according to a communiqué issued at the end of the four days of talks on 6 August.
The meeting, which aimed to forge unity among the fragmented groups, brought together leading personalities from the rebel movements who took a common position on power and wealth sharing, security arrangements, land and humanitarian issues.
That position would be put forward at peace talks with the Sudanese government, to be mediated by the AU and the UN, in two to three months’ time.
The meeting, convened by the AU's special envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, and his UN counterpart, Jan Eliasson, was, however, marred by the refusal of Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, one of the more influential leaders of one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), to join in.
Suleiman Jamous, another influential leader from Darfur, also did not attend. Jamous has been in hospital in Kordofan for 13 months, and the government had said he would be arrested if he tried to leave.
"I regret very much that our brother Abdul Wahid el Nur is not here with us," said Salim. "But that is his choice. I hope that in the interest of the people that he has been fighting for, he will soon join his brothers and sisters from Darfur, so that we can achieve an early political settlement of the conflict in Darfur. There can be no military solution in Darfur."
The meeting agreed that those who were invited but failed to attend could endorse and join the common position. Participants also agreed to "respect a complete cessation of hostilities provided that all other parties make similar commitments," according to the communiqué.
They welcomed the UN Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of a large peacekeeping mission in Darfur and pledged to fully cooperate in the implementation of the so-called hybrid operation.
"We have also come here to find the ways and means of ensuring that whatever we do, the suffering of the people of Darfur would be brought to an end and that the IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees would be able to return home in conditions of dignity as human beings," Salim told the delegates. "This must remain a priority for all of us."
The Darfur conflict erupted when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of marginalising their region. About 200,000 people have died and more than two million been displaced since the conflict broke out.
The government has been widely accused of using scorched-earth tactics in Darfur, arming Arab militias known as Janjawid to commit atrocities against civilians.