Peace talks in Darfur hit another stumbling block yesterday with the announcement by Darfur’s strongest rebel faction that it would ‘freeze’ its involvement in the negotiations. The news reinforces the view that the Doha peace process exists in name only.
As Enough described in a paper last month on the peace process, the talks between JEM and the government had stalled just weeks after a ceasefire was signed in mid-February, with the two sides having only agreed to a framework for further talks. JEM has struggled to find points of leverage now that its longtime patron, Chadian President Idriss Deby, has officially mended ties with Sudan’s President Bashir. Since the rapprochement, JEM seemed to be dedicated to playing up its political side by showing that it was willing to be the game changer in the seven-year conflict.
Such was the case at the end of March when imminent nationwide elections in Sudan put the day-to-day negotiations in Doha on hold. Talks were slated to resume once elections finished and votes were all counted, but if JEM’s declaration to walk away holds, the dual-track negotiations will be reduced to one. Significantly, while the groups left sitting at the table with the government may have more allegiance from civilians in Darfur, they do not wield much firepower in the region.
JEM’s announcement coincides with reports that Chadian government soldiers clashed with Chadian rebels near the Chad-Sudan border late last week, killing over 100 rebels and nine soldiers. A death toll of this magnitude, while unconfirmed by outside sources, suggests a formidable contingent of Chadian rebels – too large, one could surmise, to be able to organize without at least the knowledge of their longtime patron Sudan.
While JEM may have lost its presidential backing in Chad, internal instability along Chad’s eastern border – and what it may mean about the real strength of Chad-Sudan ties – opens up possibilities for JEM to try to re-entice its erstwhile sympathetic host. Furthermore, while President Deby’s refusal to support JEM forced rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim to leave Chad, the rebel group’s infrastructure in eastern Chad remained intact; it wouldn’t take much to re-establish the patronage, which extends beyond the presidency into the Chadian military.
These opportunities – and the dwindling options for JEM in Doha – likely played a role in motivating JEM to speak out forcefully now against the government offensive in the JEM-held territory of Jebel Moon – a firefight that began in February. “JEM will take necessary action if the government assault on innocent people is repeated,” declared JEM spokesperson Ahmed Husain Adam in a statement.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton broached the topic of Darfur during an interview on Meet the Press on Sunday. Responding to a question from host David Gregory, Clinton cited the resumption of aid delivery to Darfur last year as a sign of “slight progress in Darfur.” She was quick to add that she didn’t “want to overstate it because it is still a deplorable situation,” but it would have also been nice to see her acknowledge the reality of renewed government attacks and rebel clashes in recent months.
Photo: JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim in Doha (AP)