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Mbeki Panel: Only Sudan Can Solve Darfur's Troubles

By Peter Heinlein
Addis Ababa
08 October 2009

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki says his high-level African Union panel on Darfur has concluded that Sudan must take the lead in prosecuting alleged war crimes. The panel submitted its final report Thursday. But details of the report are being withheld pending a special Darfur summit to be held at the end of the month.

The Mbeki panel, created in February as the International Criminal Court, or ICC, was about to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, delivered its report to African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping. But the contents of the hefty document are being kept secret. Its recommendations are expected to be revealed at a special gathering of African heads of state in Abuja, Nigeria.

Speaking at a handover ceremony, however, Mr. Mbeki took a few veiled jabs at the ICC. He suggested that the panel's examination, including 40 days of interviews in Darfur, revealed a consensus that only the Sudanese could resolve the conflict, while outside interference could undermine the search for peace and reconciliation.

"Everybody in Darfur and Sudan as a whole, without exception, emphasized that everybody has to recognize and respect the fact that the resolution of the conflict in Darfur has to be brought about by the Sudanese people themselves, and cannot and should not be imposed from the outside," he said.

Mr. Mbeki said all parties in the region agree that Sudan's judicial system must take the lead role in Darfur war crimes prosecutions. "Whatever the ICC might have done does not absolve Sudan from acting on crimes that might have been committed. So it is still the responsibility of the Sudanese state to act on those matters," he said.

The former South African leader said everybody concerned, from President Bashir on down, agree that justice must be done and must be seen to be done. But he argued that justice, to be effective, must be accompanied by peace and reconciliation. "Our interlocutors also recognized the reality that the objectives of peace, justice and reconciliation in Darfur are interconnected, mutually independent, equally desirable and cannot be achieved separate from one another," he said.

Mr. Mbeki added that the panel's research turned up no desire among Darfuris for independence from Sudan. But he said people in the conflict region had warned the panel their mission would fail unless they recognized that marginalization and underdevelopment, and not resources, were the root causes of the violence that broke out in 2003. "This is represented as a gross imbalance between a strong center and a marginalized periphery, which resulted in political power and wealth being concentrated in the center, with the consequent negative consequences on the periphery," he said.

Mr. Mbeki said the issues are political, and require a political solution. He said it is important that negotiations be handled by a single mediator, to keep various parties from engaging in what he called "forum shopping" - a reference to the several concurrent Darfur mediation efforts. He called on the African Union and the United Nations to ensure that the Joint Chief Mediator already in place, Djibril Bassole, has the necessary resources to carry out his job.

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