SLM leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur talking to reporters in Nairobi on 8 Nov 2005.
NAIROBI, 9 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - The United States Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, has urged the divided leadership of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) to overcome their differences and present a united front at the upcoming peace negotiations.
"One of the most important assets for the SLM is the support of countries around the world. But to maintain that support, they have to respect the ceasefire. They can't follow a path of violence, and they have to come up with a common negotiating position," Zoellick told reporters in Nairobi on Tuesday, after a failed attempt to bring the rebel leaders together.
"The problems of Darfur will not be solved by more violence. We need to conclude a peace negotiation within the framework of the CPA," Zoellick added, referring to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 9 January, which ended Sudan’s 21-year north-south conflict.
Although the US-sponsored meeting in Nairobi was intended to bring together SLM leaders Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur and Minni Arko Minnawi, Minnawi failed to attend. Initially, both delegations had refused to be in the same room.
The election of Minnawi as the group’s new president during a conference on 3 November led to an acute leadership crisis within the western Sudanese rebel movement. El-Nur has refused to recognise the decision, as he had not been consulted in the preparations of the conference. The leader considered the election an attempt by Minnawi to unseat him.
"If [Minnawi] thinks he is the chairman and creates his own faction, we will not bring him in by force," El-Nur told reporters in Nairobi. "We are still appealing for a common position in the interest of our people on the ground. The factions are not the enemy, the government is our enemy."
Growing rifts between political and military leaders and the Zaghawa and Fur factions of the SLM have led to a breakdown in the movement's command structure. This has contributed to the deadlock in the recently suspended peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
"If [the SLM] remain in a state of disarray, they cannot continue to count on the understanding of the international community," Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, head of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), remarked on Tuesday.
Zoellick claimed that some progress was made during the meeting and that both sides of the SLM had been willing to listen to the international partners who were present, including the African Union and the European Union.
"It is not our role to dictate how the SLM unifies or who should be its leaders, but we have asked them to make clear that their members will be willing to work together in the Abuja negotiations, are committed to the Abuja peace negotiation process, will respect the ceasefire and [will] work with the AMIS mission and protect humanitarian workers," he said.
He also urged the two main parties in the Sudanese government to play a constructive role in order to regain the momentum of the peace negotiations, which are set to resume on 21 November.
"The government of national unity needs to bring together the National Congress Party as well as the SPLM [the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement] members so they also present a common approach to the negotiations in Abuja," Zoellick added.
Sudan, he added, could not expect the US to lift sanctions imposed in 1997 without more effort to end violence and suffering in Darfur.
The US is the largest donor of aid to Darfur, but American lawmakers were criticised by some colleagues and rights groups last week for cutting US $50 million in pledged peacekeeping support.
"I would certainly encourage the members of Congress who feel very strongly about their support for the tragedy in Darfur to back their words with resources. But I think - having looked at the most recent Appropriations Bill - that we will probably have the freedom to move around accounts to continue to support the AMIS mission," Zoellick noted.
"The peace in Darfur will come when there is clear international involvement. Implementation of the resolutions of the [UN] Security Council is a clear way to create a better situation in Darfur," El-Nur said.
The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 when the SLM and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms to fight what they called the discrimination and oppression of the region by the Sudanese government.
The government is accused of unleashing militia - known as the Janjawid - on civilians in an attempt to quash the rebellion. Some 3.3 million people continue to be affected by the conflict, according to the UN, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad.