KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said Sunday it was ready to start discussions with international mediators in Qatar, but was not yet prepared to re-join full peace negotiations.
JEM, seen as the region’s most militarily powerful rebel force, walked out of talks in the Qatari capital Doha in May, saying Sudan’s government had broken a ceasefire and objecting to Khartoum’s decision to hold talks with other insurgent groups.
The withdrawal sparked a surge of violence in the remote western region and dealt a heavy blow to the internationally- brokered negotiations, the latest in a series of attempts to resolve the festering seven-year conflict.
JEM was one of two mostly non-Arab rebel groups to revolt in 2003, accusing Khartoum of marginalizing Darfur and starving it of funding.
Khartoum mobilized troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising, which Washington and some activists say amounts to genocide, a charge dismissed by Sudan.
JEM said it has met joint U.N./African Union mediator Djibril Bassole in London and agreed to send a small delegation to Doha to discuss ways the negotiations could be “reformed.” “JEM is under no obligation by sending that team to engage in any negotiations or to (make ) any commitments,” senior JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters.
He said the team would discuss JEM’s demands over how the talks should be held and its request for U.N. and international guarantees for the free movement of JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim between Darfur and Doha. Ibrahim is currently in Libya after being barred from entering Sudan or neighboring Chad.
Leaders from JEM and Darfur’s rebel Sudan Liberation Army have been holding tentative discussions with mediators in London and Paris in recent months but have so far resisted pressure to return to full negotiations with the Sudanese government.
“Darfur’s main rebel groups are in a wait-and-see mode until after the referendum,” said one international observer who asked not to be named.
Sudan is 11 weeks away from the scheduled start of a referendum on whether the country’s oil-producing south should declare independence, a vote promised in a peace deal that ended a separate conflict between Khartoum and southern rebels.
Analysts have said the expected secession of the south might encourage rebel groups in other parts of Sudan, especially if it is seen to weaken Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
JEM has said it is fighting for the political reform of all of Sudan and in 2008 launched an unprecedented attack on Khartoum in a bid to overthrow Bashir’s government.
Darfur lies in northern Sudan but borders southern Sudan.