DOHA (AFP) – Representatives of donor countries and aid agencies meet Sunday in Doha to raise support for a strategy worth billions of dollars to rebuild Sudan’s Darfur region after a decade-long conflict.
“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.
The two-day conference attended by 400 delegates was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal that Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups.
It seeks $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.
The gathering comes 10 years after rebels began a fight 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 shocked the world with atrocities against civilians that prompted 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 from Doha.
Britain on Sunday pledged to give at least £11 million ($16.5 million, 13 million euros) to Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow their own food and providing skills training to help people find work.
“It is not good enough to simply offer more handouts,” Britain’s international development minister Lynne Featherstone said.
“Our aid will help the poorest to get the help they need to stand on their own and make them better able to cope when crises occur.”
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.
But the draft development strategy to be discussed in Doha says there will probably never be an ideal time for recovery, and delays can only make the process more difficult.
Some 1.4 million have been people displaced by Darfur’s decade-long conflict.
On Sunday, displaced people demonstrated ahead of the conference in several of their camps demanding a prioritisation of security on the ground, with some saying they would not return to their villages until peace is restored.
Major insurgent groups rejected the Doha pact, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in January had seen only limited progress in its implementation.
A breakaway faction of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement on Saturday became the second group to join the peace deal. They signed a “final agreement” with the Sudanese government in Doha, official media reported.