Net tightens on Chad rebels in Darfur: analysts
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The thaw in relations between Khartoum and N'Djamena could tighten the net around Chadian rebels based in the conflict-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur, analysts said on Friday.
For the last five years, Chad has accused Sudan of supporting rebels seeking to oust the government, while Khartoum has charged Ndjamena with backing ethnic minority rebels in Darfur.
But last week, the two neighbours signed an agreement to set up a joint force on their troubled border which effectively means that Chad would have to stop supporting Darfur rebels and Sudan cease backing Chadian rebels.
The two countries have agreed to the "manning of the outposts and the securitisation" of the border which will take place "between February 15 and 20."
Chad and Sudan had in the past signed agreements aimed at normalising relations between them and securing the border, but these accords were never implemented.
"This time it seems serious. They both need it right now," one diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"Chad is heading towards legislative elections in November and presidential elections in April 2011, while elections in Sudan are scheduled for April (2010) and a referendum in January 2011," on southern independence, the diplomat said.
The thaw in relations between Khartoum and N'Djamena could strike a blow to the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR), a grouping of the main factions of Chadian armed opposition.
"The Chadian rebels don't have the proper means to launch an offensive, the Sudanese can easily control them. They are the big losers in this agreement," said Roland Marchal of the Paris-based Centre d'etudes et de recherches internationales (CERI).
One of the main Darfur rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is "more autonomous" in relation to Chadian authorities than Chadian rebels are to Khartoum, Marchal said.
The JEM is well established in Darfur, while the Chadian rebellion is confined to the Darfuri town of Mellit, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the Chadian border.
"I would be worried if we were inside Sudan," said Adoum Yacoub who heads the FPRN, a faction of the UFR but which is based inside Chad.
In May, UFR troops launched a massive offensive against Chad but they were beaten back by Chadian forces in a decisive military victory.
"The military setback was quite tough, there had been several victories but in general it was a defeat," Yacoub said.
"We were not in a position to draw conclusions (from the experience), we just fell into an organisational lethargy," he told AFP.
According to several sources, the leadership of UFR chief Timan Erdimi was also undermined.
"We mut not wait for the problems to be resolved in order to act, this would give the Chadian government a free hand," Yacoub said.
He also stressed that his faction was adopted a "new strategy" aimed to "take the war" further west and into Chadian territory.
"But we are not in a rush, it's not a race," he said.
Even if the intention to normalise relations -- which is crucial to resolving the Darfur crisis -- is serious, it is nonetheless fragile.
"This is a year of respite, but will it hold till 2011?," said the diplomat.
"Basically, nothing is resolved," chimed in Marchal.