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November 27, 2011

Darfur Envoy: Sudan Rebels Increasing 'Rhetoric of War'

The head of the joint United Nations/African Union mission in Darfur says the formation of a new rebel alliance is threatening prospects for peace in Sudan. The number of deaths from armed confrontation in Darfur is down, but tensions are on the rise.

The UN/AU joint special representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, is blaming a newly formed coalition calling itself the Sudan Revolutionary Front [SRF] for an increase in war rhetoric.

After briefing the African Union Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa Monday, Gambari said the SRF is threatening to unravel years of slow progress toward peace.

"We are not there yet in terms of peace because we still don't have a comprehensive [agreement] which all the armed movements would sign. On the contrary, we hear an alliance involving a number of armed movements and the SPLM north, calling themselves the Sudan Revolutionary Front, where the objective is to overthrow the government in Khartoum. That will have very negative consequences on the prospect of peace in Darfur," said Gambari.

Military forces meet with Carson

The front comprises four military forces from Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Its leaders met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson this month on the sidelines of a Darfur workshop in Washington.

Gambari expressed concern about the loss of four peacekeepers from the UN-AU mission in Darfur, two from Rwanda and one each from Senegal and Sierra Leone. He said overall, however, conflict-related deaths have dropped to about 400 in the first 11 months of this year, compared to about 1,000 in the same period last year.

"Peace is not yet there, because we have to get the armed movements outside the peace process to join, we still have to deal with the issue of criminality and the negative consequences of the so-called Sudan Revolutionary Front and the rhetoric of war," said Gambari.

Gambari said Darfur could not be isolated from troubling developments in other parts of Sudan, including Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where Sudanese government forces are battling rebels. He also expressed concern about the frayed relationship between Sudan and South Sudan over post-breakup issues involving borders and the sharing of oil revenue.

North, South hold mediated talks

Delegations from the north and south are meeting in Addis Ababa for African Union-mediated talks. The chief mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is scheduled to brief the AU Peace and Security Council on Wednesday.

An African diplomat close to the talks Monday described them as “contentious” and “difficult," chiefly because the current round involves settling a formula for sharing oil revenues.

Other diplomats, who cannot be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly, described the overall chances for success of the north-south talks in stark terms. One described the best case scenario as a proxy war that could drag on for years, even decades. The worst case scenario, he said, would be Armageddon.