One of the main rebel groups in Sudan’s volatile Darfur region – the Joint Equality Movement, or Jem – is appealing for “substantive” peace talks with the government of Sudan. The Jem and international human rights groups accuse the Khartoum government of killing thousands of people in Darfur in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. President Omar al-Bashir’s administration denies the allegations, and blames the violence on “intertribal” battles over scarce resources, and on rebel militias themselves. In May, Jem insurgents attacked the Omdurman area near Khartoum, but were driven back by state troops. Now, one of the Jem’s commanders, Dr. El-Tahir El-Faki, has told VOA’S Darren Taylor that unless negotiations for peace begin soon, the rebels will consider “further actions” against the government.
El-Faki says it’s up to the al-Bashir administration to avoid further bloodshed.
“We are going back (to war). We are going to attack, and remove this regime. The only thing that will stop us is if they were to sit peacefully and discuss the way forward. Our aim is for a peaceful settlement. But if the Sudan government is adamant that it wants to settle this militarily…. Jem is ready to go back and (overthrow) the government,” he told VOA from an undisclosed location.
Sudan’s Minister for International Cooperation, Dr. Eltigani Salih Fidail, described Jem’s “moves toward war” as “very irresponsible” and pointed to El-Faki’s statements as “more evidence that the rebels are dedicated to violence, and not peace.”
Fidail said Khartoum remained dedicated to peace, but could not negotiate effectively with the rebels in Darfur as they had split into several groups and were without a common political purpose, with disparate demands.
El-Faki said Jem was “working very hard” to unite the various rebel movements in Darfur with the purpose of opposing the Sudan government.
“Especially after the Omdurman operation, the other movements have understood our seriousness and that has paved the way for us to come closer to coming up with one united force…. Hopefully, in the near future, before we go to Omdurman again and (overthrow) the government, all Darfurian movements will have united for a common cause.”
Khartoum, as well as several independent analysts, has said that in threatening to attack the Sudanese capital, the rebel groups are in effect pressuring the government to “pay them off” with large sums of money, in order to avoid further problems for the state.
But El-Faki denied that Jem leaders would accept money in exchange for halting their insurrection.
“Our aim is not material things. We have to make dramatic changes in Sudan. Power and wealth (must be shared) equally (in) all the marginalized areas…. We want to remove the sharia law from the Sudan, and (establish) a secular system (under which everyone’s equal). But this regime wants to spread an Arab-Islamic vision to Darfur, to Kordofan, to Chad, to Niger, to all the African countries.”
He added: “To say that in exchange for money we will stop (fighting Khartoum), the answer is no….”
The rebel commander said Jem’s “main motivation” was to “be a barrier to the terrorism of the Arab-Islamic vision.”
Fidail denied that Khartoum was bent on spreading Islam by means of violence.
El-Faki said Jem was grateful to the United States for so far providing about four billion dollars in aid to the people of Darfur.
“(US) civilian authorities have worked very hard to enhance the peace process in Darfur,” he commented. But, he added that the US had “unfortunately” been unable to speed up the deployment of a full contingent of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers to Darfur.
El-Faki, though, said this was not Washington’s fault. He blamed such countries as Russia, and especially China, which have vetoed harsher action against the Khartoum government in the UN Security Council, for prolonging the Darfur conflict.
“We blame China for what has been going on (in the UN and Darfur). And still China is supporting the Sudan government by giving it arms, by giving it political support that makes the Sudan government more adamant to continue with its genocidal actions.”
El-Faki said his movement would continue to maintain contact with US government representatives in order to “end the killings” in Darfur.
“We have been in contact with the US administration. We have met (US Special Envoy to Sudan Richard) Williamson…. and we had a very cordial discussion. We put our case (to him) and we provided a peaceful roadmap to the solution of the problem of Darfur.”
El-Faki maintained that the US shared some of Jem’s views, especially that the crisis in Sudan was not confined to Darfur.
“The problem should be looked at as a whole, not just as Sudan’s problem in Darfur. Because if we solve the problem in Darfur on its own, then we will (still) be faced with problems in Kordofan and other (marginalized) regions. The American administration now is sharing with us this view that Sudan’s problems should be sorted (out) as a whole.”
El-Faki insisted that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that in 2005 ended a 20-year war between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the southern region of the country, be “taken as the model” to solve Sudan’s political crisis.