Khartoum, Sudan – Exiled Darfur rebel leader Abdelwahid Nur charged on Wednesday that the world has turned a blind eye to the conflict in his war-torn Sudanese region and called for a Libya-style no-fly zone.
Nur accused the Sudanese government of cynically exploiting the distraction of events elsewhere, first in south Sudan and now in Libya, to renew its attacks on Darfur, and said he would not consider joining peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha until Khartoum halted its aggressions.
“Our people are being killed and raped and forced from their land. This regime is committing genocide continuously,” he said in a telephone interview with AFP.
“I am appealing to the international community and the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone in Darfur. It is time to stop the regime from carrying out these attacks,” he added.
In sharp contrast to the speed with which a no-fly zone was agreed in Libya, similar proposals for Darfur have been discussed for years, and were enthusiastically supported by Barack Obama before his election as US president, but have yet to materialise.
Nur heads a branch of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army that fought alongside the Justice and Equality Movement against government forces in an isolated region of North Darfur on Tuesday, according to UN sources.
JEM, the most heavily armed rebel group, said the army attacked the Sagor area with Antonov aircraft, MiG fighter planes and around 180 land vehicles.
Another key rebel group, a separate SLA faction led by Minni Minnawi, has also been involved in clashes with the government since Saturday in an area northwest of the state capital El Fasher.
Nur described the Sudanese government as a “fundamentalist regime” only interested in a “ceremonial peace” in Darfur, which expelled aid organisations “that give food and medical supplies to our people,” and which had “no legitimacy”.
“For us, the issue is not whether to go to Doha. The issue is security. Without this, there is no peace. We need respect for human life and security, and it is not there,” he said.
Following a relative lull in the fighting, renewed clashes between rebels and the army since December have resulted in more than 70 000 new arrivals at camps in Darfur set up for those fleeing their homes, according to UN reports.
Based in Paris until early last month, the rebel leader was asked to leave by the French authorities and moved to Nairobi.
He has since travelled to Kampala, where he has held talks with Minnawi and met the head of the UN chief envoy to Darfur Ibrahim Gambari on March 21.
He stressed the need to establish a humanitarian corridor to the eastern part of Jebel Marra, the region’s fertile central uplands, that have been a stronghold of Nur’s rebel group.
In February, French aid agency Medecins du Monde was kicked out of Jebel Marra, after it was accused of supporting Abdelwahid’s rebel group.
The decision was taken by South Darfur’s governor, Abdelhamid Kasha, who told a news conference in Khartoum that the authorities were poised to expel another foreign aid agency from the region because of its failure to cooperate.
Nur said he was ready for a “new start” in the struggle for peace in Darfur.
“Now I am back in Africa, and I am making wide consultations, with different military groups, with civil society in neighbouring countries, and with most of the political parties in Sudan, to have a real peace,” he said.
Senior JEM leaders said in February that their group was trying to persuade Nur’s faction to join the talks with the government in Doha that are being mediated by the UN’s chief negotiator on Darfur, Djibril Bassole.
But the talks have been in limbo since officials in Khartoum announced unilateral plans to hold a referendum on the administrative status of the region.
At least 300 000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people fled their homes since the eight-year conflict first erupted, between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime, according to the United Nations.
The government puts the death toll at 10 000.