Darfur’s strongest rebel group on Wednesday threatened to walk out of new peace talks with Sudan’s government if Khartoum pushed on with plans to sign agreements with other insurgents.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the movements that started the Darfur revolt in 2003, signed a ceasefire with Khartoum in Qatar last week, promising to come to a final peace deal by March 15.
JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters that Khartoum’s plans to sign a similar deal with a rebel umbrella group, the Liberation and Justice Movement, would undermine what he saw as JEM’s position as the sole negotiator for Darfur’s rebels.
Darfur’s once highly coordinated rebel movements have fragmented into a mass of often tiny splinter groups, fractured by ethnic divisions and in-fighting between rival commanders.
The disunity has bedevilled successive efforts to resolve the seven-year conflict.
“If the mediation wants multiple agreements … JEM will be compelled to go out of the mediation and of the host country and to go away,” said Ibrahim, speaking by satellite phone.
“To save the peace talks and peace process, it is important to unify all movements as one resistance group and to continue negotiations and stop this process of parallel agreements.”
Ibrahim said his talks with Khartoum were already on hold. “We have stopped negotiations until we can get assurances there will be no other parallel agreements.”
Other JEM officials told Reuters this week a second deal would give undue prominence to the Liberation and Justice Movement, which they said was made up of 10 small organisations with little or no military presence on the ground.
The hold-up meant meeting the March 15 deadline was increasingly unlikely, they added.
‘Most groups do not want to be involved with JEM’
Sudanese state media last week reported arrangements were under way for Khartoum to sign a similar “framework” agreement with the umbrella group, which includes former JEM commanders.
Joint United Nations/African Union mediators, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the preparations.
Sayed Sharif, a member of the Liberation and Justice Movement, which was formed last week in Doha, told Reuters JEM did not have the right to speak for other insurgents.
“Most groups in Darfur do not want to be involved with JEM. JEM’s agreement with the government is all about JEM’s demands, nothing for the people of Darfur. We are talking to the mediation and the government. We may sign a deal next week.”
JEM leader Ibrahim also condemned reports of recent Sudanese army attacks on positions held by the separate insurgent Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in Darfur’s central Jabel Marra area.
“The ceasefire we signed in Doha was a ceasefire for all of Darfur. JEM will not accept or allow the government to attack this group … We will protect them,” he said.
Sudan’s army denies any fighting is going on in Jabel Marra, but a UN source told Reuters on Monday that between 140 and 400 civilians were feared to have been killed.
The United Nations says about 2,7-million people have been driven from their homes since conflict flared in 2003 when JEM and the SLA took up arms against the state, complaining of neglect. — Reuters