/ 13 March 2008

Headache delayed Sudan-Chad pact

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was due to attend a rescheduled peace accord signing with Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itno on Thursday after failing to show up on Wednesday and telling mediators he had a headache.

The mediators hope the non-aggression pact will end years of hostility between Sudan and Chad that has often brought the two oil-producing neighbours close to all-out war.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and African, United States and European diplomats waited for almost three hours on Wednesday for Bashir to turn up.

”He rang me up. He said he’d been travelling, that he’d been in Dubai the day before and that he had a headache,” Wade said on the steps of his Dakar palace with fellow mediator, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, by his side.

”He asked me to postpone it until [Thursday] morning,” said Wade, adding the meeting would now take place after the opening ceremony of a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in the Senegalese capital.

When cameramen were allowed in for a photo opportunity, the chair meant for Bashir was empty and the assembled heads of state and diplomats looked visibly annoyed.

Some said there were doubts about whether the pact would be signed at all.

Wade, who has sought a mediation role in several African conflicts, drafted the accord to be signed by Déby Itno and Bashir in the hope it can help end years of conflict on both sides of their common border that includes the Darfur region.


The border area has become a battleground for Sudanese and Chadian rebel groups fighting both in Sudan’s Darfur region and in eastern Chad. Khartoum and Ndjamena accuse each other of supporting insurgents.

Bashir, who accuses Déby Itno of failing to respect previous deals to stop backing insurgents, has questioned the usefulness of another accord on paper.

Rebels from both Chad and the Darfur region, seen by many as fighting a proxy war for the feuding presidents, have dismissed the planned pact, criticising it for failing to include them and saying it would not bring lasting peace.

”It’s going nowhere. It’s just a protocol, a ceremony,” said Ali Ordjo Hemchi, a representative of the Chadian rebel National Alliance, whose forces raided the capital Ndjamena last month.

”They can sign, but it’s not going to produce anything,” said Hemchi, adding that at least five previous accords, brokered mostly by Libya but also by Saudi Arabia, had collapsed. ”It’s a non-event.”

Sudan’s rebels took a similar line.

”The Khartoum government has signed agreements with Chad … agreements with the United Nations. And still our people are getting killed,” said Sudan Liberation Army chairman Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur.

About 200 000 people have been killed since 2003 in Darfur’s conflict, which pits Sudanese government forces and allied militia against local rebels who say the western region has been neglected and marginalised by the Khartoum government.

Alex de Waal, an analyst and writer who specialises in Sudan and Chad, said he did not believe either Déby Itno or Bashir were interested in non-military options.

”If they do sign, it’ll be purely for tactical reasons to gain credit with the international community,” he said. – Reuters