KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan and Chad agreed on Tuesday to end their proxy wars and work together to rebuild their border areas, a move seen aimed at bolstering security and credibility before impending polls in both nations.
Chadian President Idriss Deby made a surprise visit to Khartoum for talks with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir after relations between the oil producers had hit rock bottom with each capital backing rebels fighting the other’s government.
“I came with an open heart and hands outstretched to turn a new page in Sudanese-Chadian relations,” Deby told a gathering of Chadian and Sudanese nationals in Khartoum.
He called on the armed Chadian opposition groups, who have camps in Sudan’s Darfur region, to take part in elections and win power through the ballot box not with bullets.
Chad, which has a history of flawed elections, will hold legislative polls this year and a presidential vote in May 2011.
“I will give you security guarantees so you can return to your country and ... rejoin civil society,” Deby said of the Chadian “mercenaries,” who in 2008 besieged the presidential palace in N’Djamena but have suffered heavy defeats since.
Deby, who has asked the United Nations not to renew the mandate of its MINURCAT border monitoring mission in the east, said on Tuesday the force had not fully deployed and was unable to fulfil its mandate and protect civilians.
“He is trying to undo the image of a belligerent,” one diplomat said of Deby’s move to improve ties with Sudan. “He is trying to establish some legitimacy ahead of the elections.”
Deby invited Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the Darfur region bordering Chad, to visit N’Djamena in the coming days.
“This visit has put a definitive end to all the problems between Sudan and Chad,” Bashir told journalists after the talks. He said Sudanese and Chadian authorities and the presidents themselves would now be in regular direct contact.
Bashir is standing in Sudan’s first democratic elections in 24 years in April, and analysts said the rapprochement would help reduce conflict in Darfur and silence critics who say a free election is impossible while Darfur’s conflict continues.
Roland Marchal, senior research fellow and Chad-Sudan expert at France’s CERI international research institute, said Bashir, like Deby, will be seeking recognition for easing regional tensions ahead of polls.
“He will need to get an international community that is not too critical. It makes sense, especially as Chad has committed itself to not supply equipment to the Darfur rebels.”
Bashir’s adviser, Ghazi Salaheddin, told reporters the two were working to get a joint border patrol force on the ground and would undertake joint development projects in the region.
Both sides agreed not to host the other’s rebels and encouraged those insurgents to take part in elections, he said.
Djibril Bassole, the chief mediator in the Darfur peace process taking place in Qatar, welcomed the visit.
“This visit will help the Doha talks definitely,” he told Reuters. “Now that all the belligerents are in Doha we’ll keep them there until we reach something.”
“I hope we will reach something by the end of April. At least if we reach some kind of framework agreement before the election that could help the entire peace process.”
The United Nations estimates 300,000 died in Darfur’s humanitarian crisis, which began after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003.
Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis in Dakar; Editing by Charles Dick