As a two-day international conference on the Darfur issue began yesterday, the Sudanese government, heavily pressured for long, eventually caught a breath to restart the political process for a solution to the thorny issue after it agreed to accept an international hybrid force.
The Sudanese government, worried about the Western countries' interference with its domestic affairs, had long been hesitating to allow the presence of external hybrid troops, thus incurring accusations and sanctions from the United States as well as tremendous pressure from other Western countries like Britain and France.
The grim circumstances, coupled with mediation by China that has a close relationship with Sudan, resulted in Khartoum's shift of policy to allow the presence of the hybrid force of the United Nations and the African Union (AU).
On June 12, Sudan, the UN and AU finally clinched the deal on a three-phased deployment of the hybrid force after an initial agreement was reached last year.
The long-standing peacekeeping dispute was thus removed over the troubled Darfur issue, and Sudan's acceptance of the UN-AU hybrid force consequently received welcome worldwide.
A UN delegation's visit to Sudan and an international meeting on Darfur last month sent a signal that the international community respects Sudan's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and hopes to solve the problem peacefully by accelerating the political process.
Now, the ball is on the court of the rebels' side, whose factional confrontation has become the principal hurdle to the restart of the peace process.
Even the United States is changing its stance toward the rebels that Washington has been supporting. On Friday, while asking the Sundanese government to implement the peace deal, US Envoy to Darfur Andrew Natsios also pressured the rebel groups for cooperation.
"Some rebel leaders are cynically obstructing the peace process and the United States government is very disturbed by this. It needs to end now," he said.
The Sudanese government signed a peace deal with one of the main rebel groups in Darfur in May last year while the other rebel groups refused to sign the peace agreement on the grounds that the deal had not met all their demands.
Radhia Achouri, spokesman with the UN Mission in Sudan, said on Wednesday that the situation in the areas controlled by the Sudanese government was much better than in the regions where the rebels are dominant.
The Sundanese government said on Thursday that it was ready to start talks with the rebel factions "in any time and at any place."
It also said the international conference in Tripoli, capital of Libya, will determine the place and time for the peace talks.
The Tripoli conference, slated to be co-chaired by the UN and AU, will gather Sudanese government officials and rebel leaders, representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and other countries.
(Xinhua News Agency July 16, 2007)