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World donors meet to woo support for Darfur recovery

Published: Updated:

A meeting of representatives of donor countries and aid groups began meeting on Sunday in Doha with the aim to piece together a strategy to rebuild Sudan’s Darfur region.

The Doha summit, a meeting attended by some 400 delegates, began with a statement from the Qatari leador on Darfur, where a decade-long conflict shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.

“Peace time has begun in Darfur. A peace that will be protected by development, not by force,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said.

The two-day summit seeks to raise $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.

“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 U.N. Development Programme in Sudan.

The Doha meeting comes 10 years after rebels rose up 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.

On Sunday, Britain pledged at least £11 million ($16.5 million, 13 million euros) for Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow their own food and for providing skills training to help people find work.

Meanwhile, 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.

Demos rocked Darfur on Saturday and Sunday, as displaced people demonstrated ahead of the conference in several camps, demanding that security on the ground take priority, with some saying they would not return to their villages until peace is restored.