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Rebels In Eastern & Western Sudan Form Alliance - 2004-01-27


Rebels in eastern and western Sudan say they have forged a political and military alliance to better fight the government in Khartoum. The alliance is partly meant to show deep anger at being left out of Kenyan-sponsored peace talks between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels.

A member of the political wing of the Beja Congress, Ali al-Safi, says his eastern-based rebel group recently signed a joint declaration with the Sudan Liberation Army, the main rebel group based in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

Mr. Safi says the overall objective of both groups is the same.

"The Beja Congress is struggling for a federal arrangement for the region here in eastern Sudan where the people can govern themselves. And the Darfur people are also struggling for the same objective, that is a federal arrangement within a united Sudan. The details have not been worked out yet, but both parties will struggle together in a very closely, coordinated way."

Beja Congress rebels began their armed struggle in eastern Sudan nearly seven-years ago, protesting decades of economic neglect and exploitation by the government in Khartoum.

A similar protest in the western Darfur region began more than a year ago. But the rebellion, which began as a small insurgency, has recently escalated into a full-scale conflict.

The U-N refugee agency estimates that just in the past six weeks, nearly 95-thousand Sudanese from the Darfur region have crossed over into neighboring Chad to flee the fighting.

Mr. Safi says both rebel groups would rather negotiate a settlement than fight. But he says Khartoum has made it nearly impossible for them to take part in the long-running peace talks in Kenya between the Islamic government and the mainly Christian and animist southern-based rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Those talks, aimed at ending their 20 year-long civil war, are in their final stages, with both sides having agreed to share wealth and two disputed areas of central Sudan. The Sudan government, however, says it considers Beja Congress and the Darfur rebels as traitors and has vowed to crush them.

Mr. Safi insists as long as the Sudan government refuses to discuss and solve the problems in eastern and western Sudan, the people there have no choice but to escalate their rebellion.

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