Donors conference raises $850 million for Darfur to ensure safe return of displaced

By Hadeel Al-shalchi, AP
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Donors conference raises $850 million for Darfur

CAIRO — An international donors conference on Sunday raised $850 million for projects intended to ensure the safe return of nearly 3 million people displaced during the war in Darfur.

The one-day conference in Cairo was organized by the 57-nation Organization of The Islamic Conference and included representatives from the U.S., European nations, U.N. agencies and aid groups.

Host Egypt said the conference highlighted the importance of development in achieving peace and stability in Darfur. It said many participants made unspecified aid pledges on top of the dlrs 850 million raised.

“The large participation and the pledges made reflect the wide extent of the international commitment and wish in supporting peace and stability in Darfur,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, reading from the meeting’s final communique.

“Development in Darfur is the real guarantee to help refugees back to their homes,” Aboul Gheit said.

The biggest donors Sunday were Brazil, The Islamic Bank for Development, Qatar and Turkey. Others pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to finance development projects.

The fighting in Darfur, which began with a 2003 rebellion by groups accusing the government of neglecting the western province, has died down over the past year and peace talks are under way in the Gulf state of Qatar. Many of those displaced, however, are still living in camps and their future is one of the central unresolved issues. An estimated 300,000 people lost their lives to violence, disease and displacement.

OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters after the meeting that the United States, European countries, Australia and Japan promised generous aid and pledged continued support for the people of Darfur. He gave no figures.

Aboul Gheit said the money raised and pledged will be used to finance development projects in Darfur when peace prevails there and all rebel groups come to agreement with the Sudanese government.

Organizers said they wanted to use the funds for projects in water, health care, housing, education and rural development.

The return of refugees is one of the most contentious issues in the conflict. A majority are displaced within Darfur, but some also fled across the border to neighboring Chad.

Refugees fear the government is forcing their return to their villages or other areas to erase the most sore manifestation of the conflict without actually dealing with the causes of the rebellion.

They also complain that the Sudanese government moved populations around to alter the ethnic makeup of the region. Some refuse to return except to their original villages and not to newly built communities.

Some experts say a change of population centers is inevitable because the return of refugees to their original villages — many of which were torched and destroyed — is inconceivable because of drought and lack of adequate water resources in some cases in the vast, arid region.

Sunday’s final communique said participants hoped that the successful peace talks and the signing of cease-fires between the government of Sudan and two rebel groups would be “an incentive for other groups to achieve peace and stability in Darfur.”

The peace talks in Qatar have produced cease-fire agreements between the government and one of Darfur’s most powerful rebel groups as well as a newly formed umbrella group of smaller rebel factions. Political agreements on the sharing of power and resources are still under discussion.

The Qatar peace conference pledged to start a $1 billion fund for Darfur development.

But the talks have yet to include one of the most influential groups, Sudan’s Liberation Movement, which has strong backing among the refugee community.

Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.

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