From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Feb 26 2009 - 06:20:04 EST
Darfur rebel leader vows to topple President al-Bashir
Anthony Loyd in N'Djamena
Thursday February 26, 2009
The leader of the most powerful rebel group in Darfur said that his forces
will redouble their efforts to topple the Sudanese Government the moment an
international arrest warrant is issued against President al-Bashir.
"When this warrant comes it is, for us, the end of Bashir's legitimacy to be
President of Sudan," Khalil Ibrahim, chairman of the Justice and Equality
Movement (JEM), told The Times. "We will work hard to bring him down ... If
he doesn't co-operate with the ICC [International Criminal Court] the war
Prosecutors for the ICC charged the Sudanese President last year on ten
counts - three of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of war
crimes. The court, based in The Hague, is considering the application for an
arrest warrant and is expected to rule on March 4.
According to the charge sheet Mr al-Bashir "masterminded and implemented a
plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups"
during a campaign of ethnic persecution in the Darfur region that the UN
estimates has cost 300,000 lives in five years.
Advocates of the ICC say that a warrant is overdue and that the court has
been the only entity to succeed in pressurising Khartoum towards ending the
war in Darfur.
Its critics - China, Russia and the African Union among them - say that an
ICC warrant will put an end to hopes for a peace process and increase
Since he was charged Mr al-Bashir has been soliciting support from the
African Union and Arab nations.
Dr Ibrahim, who spoke to The Times in Chad, had just returned from a round
of exploratory peace talks with a Sudanese delegation in Qatar last week,
where officials from both warring parties signed a memorandum of goodwill
"The [Sudanese] Government is unpredictable," he said, seated in an orchard
on the banks of the Chari River outside N'Djamena, the capital of Chad.
"They never honour any agreement they sign."
Although it is still no match for the Sudanese Army, the JEM has rapidly
become the dominant force among the splintered Darfur insurgency since an
audacious attack by hundreds of its fighters on Omdurman in May.
A JEM delegation was invited to Washington for bilateral talks with US
officials last month, and it was the only rebel group invited to the
negotiations in Qatar - to the anger of rival rebel factions from the Sudan
Liberation Army (SLA).
This, Dr Ibrahim maintained, was because since 2006 the SLA had fractured
into 27 groups and that, like it or not, the JEM was the only cohesive
presence on the battlefield posing a credible threat to Mr al-Bashir.
"JEM is fighting alone on the ground," he said, "shouldering the whole issue
because there are no other real movements on the ground."
Western diplomats believe that the Qatari talks have little chance of
success given the gap between the ambitions of the JEM - which include
control of Khartoum and the transformation of Sudan into a federation of
autonomous regions - and Mr al-Bashir's desire to cling to power.
Few major concessions were extracted from either side in Qatar. The rebel
delegation turned down a request to sign a cessation of hostilities until
their own list of preliminary demands had been accepted, which the Sudanese
The only tangible concession was a commitment from each side to release
prisoners of war. At the weekend Sudan released 24 rebels in response to the
release of 21 government prisoners last week. The rebels said however that
they will not return to Qatar for a second round of talks until all their
men are free.
The fear among the international community is that the conflict will become
a war of secession and will spread to neighbouring countries.
While the stated aim of JEM is to preserve the territorial integrity of
Sudan it is equally clear that the rebels are ready to divide the country.
"JEM is a national movement and we regard autonomy for the regions as a key
to peace," Dr Ibrahim said. "But if peace does not come quickly Kordofan [a
province in central Sudan] and Darfur would have to form their own entity -
Western Sudan - with the White Nile as its border. If there was no peace
then this part would have to become its own country.
"We are not going to ask to control Darfur and Kordofan through peace talks
if they [the Government] are not going to give it - we'll take it."
Racism and rebellion
- The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly black African rebels started
attacking police stations, military convoys and army outposts in response to
"racist policies of neglect" by the Arab-dominated Government. The Sudanese
Army responded with massive air and land offensives on rebel strongholds
- An ICC charge sheet alleges that President al-Bashir "failed to defeat the
armed movements so he went after the people. His motives were largely
political. His intent was genocide"
- The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), unlike other Darfur rebel groups,
has an expansive political agenda, including the overthrow of Mr al-Bashir
and the establishment of a federation. It is funded by Gulf financiers as
well as the Chadian Government, with whom it shares tribal ties
- Khalil Ibrahim, JEM's leader, is a former government official and
supporter of the hardline Islamist politician Hassan al-Turabi. The group
has had to tone down its Islamic rhetoric to extend its support among
- JEM was heavily criticised in Darfur for choosing to attend preliminary
peace talks in Qatar alone, rather than presenting a united front against
Khartoum. JEM insists that all Darfur groups will be represented if the
talks progress towards a peace deal, but it refuses to share a negotiating
table with factions of the once-dominant Sudan Liberation Army
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