Darfur rebels threaten to pull out of peace talks

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Map showing Darfur, and neighboring Libya.

The leader of an important rebel group in the Darfur region of Sudan has threatened to withdraw from scheduled peace talks if more than two other rebel groups are invited to the talks.

Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said that only the JEM, the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), and the Sudanese government should be involved in the procedures. He expressed displeasure with the way the peace talks are being handled, and said that the United Nations-African Union leadership is currently unprepared for the talks scheduled for October 27th in Libya.

"The AU and UN mediation until now have failed to detail very precisely who will be invited to the peace talks," Reuters news agency quotes him as saying. "If the mediation fails to take this decision by 27 October, then JEM is not attending the peace talks. We don't want to start with chaos." Ibrahim also said the SLM had to "reform itself and make one delegation and one position".

When the conflict in Darfur began in 2003, there were only two rebel groups opposing the Sudanese military. In the past four years, the rebel movement has splintered into more than 15 disparate groups, some of which are nothing more than armed outlaws.

SLM leader Abdel Wahed Mohammed el-Nur has refused to take part in the negotiations until a UN force is deployed in Darfur, and the pro-government militias are disarmed.

He has also chastised the choice of location of the peace talks, saying his group was not consulted and that a more neutral site should have been chosen.

"Even if we were to attend the negotiations it will not be Tripoli," he said. "We think that any negotiation is supposed to happen in a place which is not related to the conflict." Libya has been an important influence in the Darfur conflict. They are believed to have first armed militias with weapons and Pan-Arab ideology in the 1980's, militias which became the current Janjaweed.

Meanwhile, Andrew Natsios, the US Special Envoy to Sudan, has said that the relationship between the governments of north and south Sudan is growing increasingly toxic. He added that the two-year-old Comprehensive Peace Agreement would have to be discussed at the peace talks before the situation grew more dire. The agreement, signed in 2005, was aimed at bringing the two governments together as allies and partners in peace.

Mr. Natsios said that this has not happened, and that the north and south Sudanese governments are still opponents unable to find common ground.

"We are deeply concerned with the health of the CPA. The important deadlines have been missed... and trust is slowly being lost," said Mr. Natsios.

Speculation on the peace talks also includes questions about the deployment of the 26,000 strong force of The United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The deployment of the force has been delayed because Khartoum and the AU have rejected non-African troops, and not enough African nations with well-trained and well-equipped soldiers have pledged to help.