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Sudan Liberation Movement Nears Split

Delegates from Darfur's largest rebel group elected a new president on Thursday. But some members of the group are so opposed to the new president that analysts are saying the Sudan Liberation Movement may be on the brink of splitting in two.

The founder of the Khartoum office of the Sudan Liberation Movement says that the new president, Mani Arkko Minawi, was not elected democratically and that he and others will not recognize him as president.

Infighting between the newly elected leader and former SLM president Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur, who was unseated at this week's conference, has led to fears that the movement may split along tribal lines. Mr. Minawi's Zaghawa tribe and Mr. Wahid's Fur tribe have a history of conflict.

Mr. Minawi was elected president by a majority of 800 delegates at a conference in Eastern Darfur. Mr. Wahid refused to attend the conference.

Izzedin Abdul heads the Khartoum office of the SLM, also known as the SLA. He says the election was unfair because all sides of the rebel group were not represented.

"This was not election. This was a family meeting," he said. "The election of SLA should be under democracy where people from the civil society of SLA, student groups, different SLM office members from different parts of Sudan, from outside of Sudan, are invited to come and elect the chairperson for SLA. Not just going to somewhere, hiding in a corner and bringing people whom you know to elect a president of SLA."

Members of student groups, women's organizations and civil society leaders were at the conference, but Mr. Abdul believes they were allowed to attend the conference because of their loyalty to Mr. Minawi. He says those not in favor of Mr. Minawi were not at the conference, and that is the only reason he won.

"He is not the president. And he will never be a president by this way," said Mr. Abdul. "The president should be [the winner of] a fair and free election."

Former President Abdul Wahid has also said he will not recognize the outcome of Thursday's election. Observers fear that the fighting may lead to a split within the movement, which would complicate the peace process between the rebels and the government of Sudan.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003, when Darfuris rose against the Khartoum government. A scorched earth campaign undertaken by government-backed Arab militias charged with crushing the rebellion, followed. An estimated 180-thousand people have died and two-million more have been displaced during the conflict.

The Arab militias have long been criticized for their attacks in Darfur, but the SLA has also been criticized recently. Humanitarian organizations have issued statement accusing SLA soldiers of looting aid convoys.

The dissension within the SLA comes as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is scheduled to visit the region this week, as part of an attempt to push forward the peace process in Darfur.