KHARTOUM,(Reuters) – Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim said on Tuesday he would carry on fighting during upcoming peace talks until a final settlement is reached to end the conflict in western Sudan.
Ibrahim, head of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), also said he was dismissing his deputy, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, accusing him of secret meetings with the government to undermine the movement. “We will not cease fire before we reach a political settlement,” Ibrahim told Reuters from Darfur. “Ceasing fire is a termination of the resistance and revolution.”
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said during a visit this month to Italy that he would observe a ceasefire in Darfur when talks with rebels, scheduled for Oct. 27 in Libya, begin.
Ibrahim, whose group has been the mainstay behind fighting with the government in the far east of Darfur in recent months, said JEM would attend the talks but it would not lay down arms. “There is no goodwill from the other side. This is only a trick,” he said, adding the three rebel movements that negotiated in previous talks until May 2006 had abided by an earlier truce, which the government violated. Only one faction signed the 2006 peace deal which has been rejected by many in Darfur as inadequate. Since then the rebels have split into more than a dozen rival groups. But a recent military alliance between JEM and Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity faction has made them the biggest military threat to Khartoum in Darfur.
And in a sign of further rebel splits, Ibrahim said Abu Garda, a veteran of the conflict, was sacked and the movement would reshuffle its executive to strengthen ranks before talks. “He (Abu Garda) is working together with the government,” Ibrahim said. Rebels have often accused Khartoum of trying to divide them and mediators have described government attempts to negotiate deals with individual commanders as “unhelpful” as rebels worked to reach a common platform ahead of peace talks.
SLA founder and chairman Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur has said he will not attend peace talks until there is security on the ground. He has few troops in Darfur but commands massive popular support, especially among Darfur’s largest Fur tribe.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte last week threatened sanctions for those who did not attend October talks.
Ibrahim, who himself has been sanctioned by Washington, dismissed the threat. “The United States doesn’t have carrots for us — only sticks,” he said. “They should know by now that when they threaten they only complicate the situation. “They should stop the threats. It will not help the peace.” Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglecting the remote west. Khartoum mobilised militias to quell the revolt.
International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes during 4-1/2 years of fighting in Darfur. Washington calls the violence genocide.
Khartoum rejects the term and says the West has exaggerated the conflict, putting the death toll at 9,000. The factionalised rebels and tribal militia infighting has caused security chaos in Darfur where the world’s largest aid operation helps more than 4 million people.
In Zalengei in West Darfur, three Norwegian Church Aid workers were kidnapped on Sunday by Arab nomads who demanded blood money for three of their tribesmen killed inside the town.
One NCA official in Zalengei told Reuters the three Sudanese workers had been released into police custody for their own safety until it was safe for them to leave town on Wednesday. “One man was injured on his hand but the other two are fine,” he said, declining to be named. He said overnight shots were fired at the U.N. security office in Zalengei and aid agencies were discussing whether it was safe to continue working in the town.
On Monday British aid agency Oxfam warned it may consider withdrawing from Darfur if the security situation worsened.