The emergence of two new rebel groups in the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan could jeopardize fragile peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur's two main rebel groups taking place in Abuja, Nigeria. That is the assessment of AU mediators and regional analysts as the warring parties prepare to meet Friday for the next round of talks.
Earlier this week, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail announced that the government in Khartoum would recognize two new rebel groups in Darfur by holding political talks with them sometime in the near future.
Foreign Minister Ismail said that neighboring Chad would act as an intermediary and that the talks would remain separate from the African Union-sponsored peace process in Abuja.
The unexpected announcement from Khartoum immediately raised new questions about who the new rebels are and what they may demanding from the government that is different from the demands of the two main rebel groups in Darfur.
What is known so far is that one of the new rebel groups, called the National Movement for Reform and Development, is based in northern Darfur and has recently attacked Arab tribesmen and police stations in several key cities.
Sudanese officials say the group is made up of 1,000-3,000 fighters who broke off from the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the two original Darfur rebel groups.
Very little is known about the second new rebel group called the Al Shahamah Movement. It is believed to be based in the west Kordofan region of Sudan.
Richard Cornwell, a South Africa-based analyst at the Institute of Security Studies, says there has been a possibility of factions forming within Darfur's main rebel groups since they took up arms against the government in Khartoum nearly two years ago.
"There has always been a chance since the beginning of the insurgency in 2003 that there would be various splinters emerging, especially as the original groups failed to really articulate any political agendas," he said. "There were splits within their leadership emerging within those who were in Darfur and those who were part of the diaspora."
But speaking to VOA from Darfur, a senior military commander with the Justice and Equality Movement, Omar Adam, denied that NMRD is a splinter organization. Instead, Mr. Adam accused the Sudanese government of creating NMRD from members of its own security forces and ordering them to pose as rebels in a bid to discredit the real rebel groups.
"This is a group of people created by the genocidal regime of Khartoum. This group was founded by the Sudanese regime itself," said Mr. Adam.
A spokesman for the African Union at the Abuja talks, Hassan Ba, declined to comment on the new rebel groups. But he says whoever they are, they will not be recognized by the African Union for fear their inclusion could derail the peace process permanently.
"We know the Justice and Equality Movement," he expained. "We know the Sudan Liberation Movement. We will keep talking, negotiating between the government of Sudan and those two movements. That is what we know."
Peace talks on Friday in the Nigerian capital will mark the fourth round of negotiations aimed at ending the 20-month-old conflict, which has killed an estimated 70,000 people and has left nearly two million displaced inside Darfur and in Chad.
Despite political efforts to secure a peace deal, the United Nations says violence in Darfur is increasing and warns the region is in danger of lapsing into chaos.