Ceasefire Reportedly Breaks Down in Darfur, 03/20/03

Ceasefire reportedly breaks down in Darfur

NAIROBI, March 20, 2003 (IRIN) -- A ceasefire between a rebel group known as the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) operating in Darfur, western Sudan, and the Sudanese government was broken on Thursday, SLM secretary general Mini Arkoi Minawi told IRIN.

"We will fight because they [the government] broke the ceasefire already," he said, speaking from Karnoi in western Darfur, about 60 km from the Chadian border. He claimed two government helicopter gunships were dropping bombs in the area.

Minawi told IRIN the SLM/A had agreed to a ceasefire with the government some days ago, so that peace negotiations could be held.

The SLM had also demanded a general amnesty from the government, and a pledge to implement development projects in the region, 'Al-Khartoum' newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The minister of cultural and social affairs in northern Darfur, Khalil Adam Al-Karim, was reported as saying the ceasefire agreement was aimed at restoring security in the region and allowing the government to consider the SLM/A's demands.

Over the past few years, hundred of civilians, mostly from sedentary agricultural groups such as the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa have been killed, wounded or had their homes destroyed in attacks in Darfur.

On 14 March, the SLM/A (previously known as the Darfur Liberation Front) announced that it had changed its name and issued a political declaration, stating its objective was to "create a united democratic Sudan" on the basis of equality and devolution of power.

"The SLM/A shall struggle to achieve a decentralised form of governance based on the right of Sudan's different regions to govern themselves autonomously through a federal or confederal system," said rebel leader Mini Arkoi Minawi.

The rebel group called for a separation of state and religion and committed itself to an armed struggle as "one of our means to achieve our legitimate objectives". In addition, it called upon all citizens of Darfur "from Arab background" to join the struggle against the Khartoum government.

Last month, the human rights group Amnesty International called for an independent commission of inquiry into the situation in Darfur. Local people had complained that government forces were failing to protect them, and suggested that the attacks were an attempt to drive them from their land, it said. For its part, the government pointed out that dozens of its forces had also been killed in the attacks.

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