Map of Sudan
Map of Sudan Israel news photo

The government of the African nation of Sudan has reached a peace deal with the mostly-Muslim Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in Darfur after secret talks conducted late last week in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad. Though other rebel groups were not informed of the deal, they will all apparently be folded into any final ceasefire agreement.

Two different media outlets report two different deadlines for a final agreement. According to the Sudanese SUNA agency, a final document is expected to be signed formally on Tuesday, February 23, in Qatar. But an article published Saturday in the Sudan Tribune reported that a final peace agreement to end the Darfur conflict would be signed in Doha (Qatar) "on or before" March 15.

Hundreds of thousands of Africans have died in the years-long violence, and tens of thousands more have fled the region. Many of them infiltrated into the State of Israel as illegal immigrants after flooding into Egypt. Some, however, died on the way, having been shot by Egyptian security guards while trying to sneak across the border.

Peace deals have been reached between the rebels and the government before, and have rarely lasted for more than a few days in the six-year conflict. Qatar has been involved since 2003 in mediating talks between the Sudanese government, headed by President Omar Al-Bashir, and JEM Chairman Dr. Tahir al-Fati.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has also had some involvement in Sudanese affairs. South Sudan has been lately threatening to secede from the nation, a move that would impact on Egyptian security and on the Nile water agreement between the two countries. Mubarak reportedly criticized the Khartoum government last month for its inability to keep the north and south together, warning there were regional powers who had an interest keeping the conflict alive.

In a related move, Egypt announced Saturday it will host a three-day conference between Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLP) ahead of the nation's April elections. The conference is aimed at “strengthening the unity and stability of Darfur,” and to “provide security and stability throughout the country,” according to an unnamed Egyptian official quoted by the official Egyptian MENA news agency.

Although JEM is the largest, there are other active rebel groups as well, including the Sudan Liberation Movement Revolutionary Forces (SLM-RF) and Addis Ababa Group, both reportedly to be included in the final deal. Al-Bashir agreed that as part of that agreement, he would commute the death sentences of some 200 rebels jailed after recent clashes in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Al-Bashir has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for the slaughter carried out by government forces over the years, while Sudan faces national elections on April 10. Government officials said they are hoping to sign a peace agreement with rebels before citizens go to the polls.