Though largely overshadowed by the continuing North-South negotiations, there has been quite a flurry of activity in recent weeks among the rebel groups of Sudan’s restive Darfur region. Unfortunately, much of the news currently emerging from Darfur offers a bleak picture of the ongoing peace negotiations in Doha and an even bleaker picture of the prospects for a political deal between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, and the rebels not currently taking part in the negotiations.
The Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, continues to negotiate with the international mediation team in Doha on the terms of its re-engagement in peace talks with the government of Sudan. According to the most recent Small Arms Survey, however, “Many believe JEM returned to Doha for reasons unrelated to a peace agreement: namely to seize the spotlight from the LJM; to attempt to portray Khartoum as the spoiler when it insists on ending Doha without a comprehensive peace agreement; and to seek a way of getting its chairman, Khalil Ibrahim, back to Darfur.” JEM’s mixed motives may also be reflected in its continued attempts to court additional allies and supporters, both inside and outside of Darfur, as well as its reported instigation of violent clashes, such as the recent ambush in South Darfur of a government fuel convoy allegedly carried out by JEM.
As for those outside of Doha, such as the two main branches of Sudan Liberation Army, one led by Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW) and the other by Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM), they seem to be moving even further from the negotiating table. Abdel Wahid continues to refuse to participate in the negotiations, choosing instead to tour the east African capitals and conduct “consultations” with the SLA diaspora before a larger meeting in Paris takes place in the next few weeks on how to achieve peace in Darfur. Yet at the same time, SLA-AW continues to recruit new groups to join the rebellion and to foment tensions in the Darfur IDP camps between those who support Abdel Wahid and those who support engaging in negotiations.
SLA-MM has recently moved onto the fringes as well. Minnawi, who was the only rebel leader to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement, or DPA, in 2006, has reportedly become completely disillusioned with the government of late, even going so far as to take up residence in Juba. In November, Minnawi rejected the security arrangements accord signed with Khartoum the previous month, saying that the government was trying to abandon the DPA. Since then, Minnawi has been stripped of his chairmanship of the Darfur Transitional Authority by President Bashir, and his forces have been declared “enemies” of the Sudanese armed forces.
To varying degrees, each of these situations raises interesting questions about the extent to which the rebel groups hold responsibility for the elusiveness of peace in Darfur. There is no doubt whatsoever that the NCP has been guilty of the manipulation of peace processes and of foot-dragging on implementation, giving the rebel groups every reason to distrust the government and its motives. At what point, however, should the international community hold the rebel groups accountable? At what point do they become spoilers?
Photo: SLA rebels (IRIN)