Darfur rebels offer political solution

2011-12-29 18:01

New York - A new rebel alliance battling Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir wants a political solution to the country's mounting conflict but doubts the government's willingness to negotiate, one of its leaders told AFP in an interview.

"The fighting is being widened by the National Congress Party government, the people are protecting themselves," said Minni Minnawi, head of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army based in Darfur.

Minnawi spoke to AFP just ahead of the weekend announcement that Khalil Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement, the biggest Darfur armed group, had been killed in an attack by government forces.

The impact of the killing on the alliance is unclear. But the creation of the alliance in November has worried the international community. The UN leader Ban Ki-moon condemned the coalition and the US State Department guarded against "unrealistic demands and inflammatory rhetoric."

Publicly the alliance has said it wants to overthrow Bashir. Minnawi insisted however that it would propose a peaceful solution.

"The priority of this alliance is to put a political solution on the table - how to redefine the entity of Sudan to reflect all the diversity of all the people of the Sudan and how to leave the country free from determination by one people and one religion," said Minnawi, who was on a visit to the United States to talk to government officials and thinktank leaders.

New constitution

The alliance wants a new constitution which reflects "the diversity of the people" and "power-sharing and accountable wealth-sharing", Minnawi said.

He added that the United Nations and western governments had rushed their judgment of the alliance. "We are offering a political solution. We are politicians, we are not only military people."

But he said the Darfur conflict, which has led to ICC "genocide" arrest warrants for Bashir and other Sudanese government officials, was continuing. The UN reported fighting in northern Darfur in recent days. It says at least 300 000 people have died there since 2003.

"The genocide goes on. A ceasefire cannot come until there are negotiations," Minnawi said. And if the government steps up hostilities? "We are ready."

The Darfur uprising erupted against the Arab dominated government in Khartoum accused of killing and repressing black African groups in many parts of the country.

Minnawi briefly joined the government after one peace agreement signed in 2006. "They hated me while I was in the government," he said.

None of the new alliance members signed an accord with the government made in Doha in July this year. Minnawi said it was not "workable."

The alliance is made up of the JEM, militarily the strongest of the Darfur groups; Minnawi's group; another SLA faction headed by Abdelwahid Nur; and the SPLM-N, northern affiliate of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement which rules South Sudan.

The SPLM-N is confronting government forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, which has heightened international fears that the new alliance risks widening Sudan's conflict.

Main issues

An official who attended Minnawi's meetings in Washington said the alliance would struggle to keep up its message that it wants a political solution.

"The killing of Khalid makes Sudan all that more explosive," said the official speaking on condition of anonymity. "The question now is whether the message is genuine or whether it is just what they want people to hear."

Sudan is also set to become a key topic for the United Nations in 2012.

After guiding Sudan and South Sudan through their acrimonious separation this year, Darfur remains a tinderbox and the UN has been kept away from Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Sudan is refusing to move its forces out of Abyei, which it contests with South Sudan.

"One of the main issues is going to be Khartoum's relationship with its new periphery," said a senior Western diplomat on the UN Security Council.

"Will they reach out to the groups in Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile or will they try to crackdown and say 'we have lost one third of the country and we don't plan to lose any more?'

"At the moment they don't seem to be edging toward the second option," the diplomat said.