March 19, 2007 / 2:09 PM / 12 years ago

Former rebel becomes governor of West Darfur

(Corrects second paragraph to make clear West Darfur’s new governor is Abu el-Gasim al Hajj, not Minni Arcua Minnawi and edits throughout to make conform)

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, March 14 (Reuters) - West Darfur’s new governor, a former rebel, arrived in the state capital on Wednesday welcomed by hundreds of supporters in a sign some aspects of an unpopular peace deal are being implemented.

Abu el-Gasim al-Hajj, 35, was appointed under a May 2006 accord which gave former rebels the governorship of one of the three states of Darfur, a junior ministry post in the central government and some parliamentary seats in Khartoum and Darfur.

"The wali (governor) said his first priority was to bring peace and stability to West Darfur," Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) official Mahjoub Osman Abdallah told Reuters from el-Geneina, the state capital.

Al-Hajj also pledged to ensure the safe return to their homes of all those languishing in Darfur’s camps, Abdallah said.

Apart from the appointment, little else of the deal has been implemented and many of the 2.5 million Darfuris who fled their villages to makeshift camps reject it.

West Darfur is the most lawless of all the Darfur states as it runs along the long and porous border with neighbouring Chad, also in the throes of its own insurgency.

Chadian, Sudanese rebels, militias, bandits and government forces often cross the almost non-existent frontier.

Al-Hajj’s appointment has exacerbated tensions between the government and the leader of the only one of three rebel factions to have signed the May 2006 accord at the time, Minni Arcua Minnawi. Minnawi became the fourth-ranking member of the presidency as a result.

Al-Hajj is from a rival group to Minnawi, which signed up to the accord after the rebel groups splitered into a dozen factions. The Khartoum government also gave the junior ministerial position to a non-Minnawi supporter.

Minnawi has been sidelined in Darfur policy and has expressed frustration at President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s "lack of political will" to implement the deal.

Darfur, an area the size of France, has been beset by bloodshed since 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region.

Opposing the rebels are the Janjaweed, the local name for militia forces drawn from the nomadic Arab tribes, who are blamed for much of the killing. Experts estimate 200,000 have been killed in rape, murder and pillage in the Darfur region.

The United States calls the violence genocide, a term rejected by the Sudanese government and one which European governments are also reluctant to use. The Sudanese government also denies accusations it backs the Janjaweed.

Minnawi complains a transitional authority he should head and which should direct development and reconstruction in the remote west is still not functioning almost a year after the signing of the accord which envisaged it.

The world’s largest aid operation is under strain in Darfur because of banditry and attacks. Governmental restrictions have also hindered the almost 14,000 humanitarian workers.

The United States said on Wednesday it was planning new sanctions against Sudan, including restrictions on companies that do business there in U.S. dollars, because of Khartoum’s refusal to allow United Nations peacekeeping troops into Darfur.

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