JEM to mull Qatar proposal for Sudan peace talks
KHARTOUM (AFP) — The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), militarily the most powerful rebel group in Darfur, will send delegates to Qatar to sound out plans for possible talks with Sudan, a JEM official said on Saturday.
"JEM has made it very clear that its delegation will go to Doha to give a first-hand explanation, and the position of JEM regarding the Darfur problem, and the Sudan problem as a whole, and at the same time listen to the Qataris to see what their initiative is," Tahir el-Faki told AFP by telephone from London.
Qatar, which last May brokered a deal to end a political crisis in Lebanon, has been setting the stage for talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups, after more than five years of fighting.
The talks would be aimed at ending a conflict which UN officials say has left up to 300,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.2 million others since "ethnic" rebels rose up against the government in February 2003.
Khartoum says 10,000 people have been killed, dismissing other casualty statistics as a Western conspiracy.
Faki, the London-based chairman of JEM's legislative assembly, said the movement would decide whether to attend talks with the Sudanese government after an initial visit to Qatar, for which no date has been set.
"After our team comes back from Doha, it will be explained and put to the members of the executive and legislative council and then a decision will be made," said Faki.
Darfur rebel groups have been critical of Arab-led peace efforts, saying they were designed to save Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir from international court proceedings for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor said in Cairo on Saturday that during "contacts" over the last two days, JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim had signalled that he would take part in negotiations in Doha.
Faki did not rule out that the JEM chairman's future attendance.
"When a decision is made for our contribution in the negotiations... We have a team, a chief negotiator and if it needs be for the chairman to give some input into it, then it would be, but it is too early to say that," he said.
Sudan is set to unveil this week the recommendations of a so-called People's Initiative, expected to pave the way for a possible meeting in Qatar.
Convincing the international community it is serious about peace in Darfur, where the government has been accused of brutally repressing the insurgency, is part of Sudan's strategy to suspend world court moves against Beshir.