UNAMID picture shows women carrying water at the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons, March 19, 2013
Picture from the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur shows Sudanese women carrying water at the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in El-Fasher, on March 19, 2013. Representatives of donor countries and aid groups met on Sunday to endorse a strategy to rebuild Sudan's Darfur region, where a decade-long conflict shocked the world with atrocities against civilians. © Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID/AFP/File
UNAMID picture shows women carrying water at the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons, March 19, 2013
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Faisal Baatout, AFP
Last updated: April 7, 2013

Donors meet to woo support for Darfur recovery

Representatives of donor countries and aid groups met on Sunday to endorse a strategy to rebuild Sudan's Darfur region, where a decade-long conflict shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.

"Peace time has begun in Darfur. A peace that will be protected by development, not by force," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, opening the two-day meeting attended by some 400 delegates.

The conference, which drew condemnation from rebel groups still fighting the regime, was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal which Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups.

It seeks support for a development strategy requiring $7.2 billion (5.5 billion euros) for a six-year effort to move Darfur away from food handouts and other emergency aid, laying the foundation for lasting development through improved water facilities, roads and other infrastructure.

"This conference is a unique opportunity for Sudan and Darfur to turn the destiny of this conflict-ridden region," said Jorg Kuhnel, team leader of the UN Development Programme in Sudan.

In his speech, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha urged "all armed groups to make the historic decision to respect the will of the people of Darfur," referring to militants who have so far refused to join the 2011 peace agreement.

The Doha meeting comes 10 years after rebels rose up in the western Sudanese region to seek an end to what they said was the domination of power and wealth among the country's Arab elites.

In response, government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia committed atrocities against civilians, prompting the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

"After 10 years of emergency assistance, it is time to start rebuilding communities in Darfur, and allowing them to start taking care of themselves again," Kuhnel told AFP.

Britain on Sunday pledged at least 11 million pounds ($16.5 million, 13 million euros) for Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow their own food and to provide skills training to help people find work.

"It is not good enough to simply offer more handouts," said Britain's international development minister, Lynne Featherstone.

The development strategy calls for agricultural upgrades, access to financing and other measures to help Darfuris support themselves under a more effective system of local government.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes.

Rebels who have been fighting the regime for the past 10 years on Sunday condemned the Doha meeting.

"To have (a) donors' conference, you have to have peace and security on the ground first," said Abdel Wahid Mohammed al-Nur, who heads a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army.

Speaking to AFP in Khartoum, he alleged that donated money "will not go to the people".

Gibril Adam Bilal, spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), asked the international community "not to participate in giving the government of Sudan a chance to conduct crimes" against the people.

The draft development strategy on the table in Doha says there will probably never be an ideal time for recovery, and delays can only make the process more difficult.

"We are aware that it is a difficult international environment to mobilise funds. But we believe that it would be a grave mistake not to seize this opportunity for the international community as a whole," said Kuhnel.

Some 1.4 million people have been displaced by Darfur's decade-long conflict.

On Sunday, displaced people demonstrated in several camps in Darfur, demanding that security take priority, with some saying they would not return to their villages until peace is restored.

Major insurgent groups have rejected the Doha pact, which UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in January had seen only limited progress in its implementation.

A breakaway faction of the JEM on Saturday became the second group to join the peace deal. It signed a "final agreement" with the Sudanese government in Doha, Sudan's official media reported.

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