Africa Briefing NįTK
Nairobi/Brussels, 6 October 2005
Unifying Darfurís Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace
Insecurity in Darfur remains pervasive despite a decline in direct, large-scale fighting between the government and the two main rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Maintaining the present uneasy status quo is not the answer. The Khartoum government continues to flout its numerous commitments to neutralise its allied proxy militia, the Janjaweed, and more than two million civilians displaced by the conflict will not return home without a comprehensive political settlement including security guarantees. But the problem is not just on the government side: discord within and between the rebel movements also needs to be resolved if there is to be a chance for lasting peace.
The SLA, the dominant rebel force on the ground, is increasingly an obstacle to peace. Internal divisions, particularly among its political leadership, attacks against humanitarian convoys, and armed clashes with JEM have undermined the peace talks and raised questions about its legitimacy. JEM, while less important militarily and suspect among many Darfurians for its more national and Islamist agenda, has similar problems.
As long as the rebels, the SLA in particular, remain divided and the fighting in Darfur continues, there is little hope for real success at the African Union (AU)-sponsored peace talks in Abuja, since the government is likely to exploit and exacerbate rebel weaknesses at the table. SLA and JEM fragmentation may contribute to a limited settlement in which the government regains a semblance of authority in Darfur through local deals with tribal leaders and insurgent factions, while the rebel movements find themselves increasingly isolated and irrelevant. Frustrated as it is, the international community would, nevertheless, make a mistake if it chose an appearance of stability over a comprehensive solution since that would leave the root causes of the conflict untouched, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements.
A lasting political solution is still within reach but the AU, Sudanís neighbours, the UN, the U.S., and the EU need to press for four steps to resolve rebel disunity:
o the political leaderships of the SLA, especially, but also the JEM should return to Darfur as soon as possible and organise broad-based conferences of their memberships;
o the SLA conference must be inclusive in representation and participation (including women) and provide a forum for the rebels to solve their leadership problems; forge a consensus on the movementís structure; restore command and control and end banditry; and define a negotiating position for its delegation at the Abuja peace talks;
o the SLA and JEM must continue their efforts in Abuja to unify their negotiating positions, both to facilitate the political talks and to help solidify the ceasefire agreement between the two movements;
o the international community must better coordinate messages to prevent the rebel movements and factions from playing external actors against each other and should support the conferences of the two movements by helping with transport, food aid, and security.
II. REBEL DIVISIONS
A. THE SLA
A group of young men coming primarily from the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit tribes launched the SLA in February 2003. Fighting against economic and political marginalisation by the central government, it achieved early military successes against government installations, which helped it bring in thousands of recruits and rapidly expand its support base throughout Darfur. Also contributing to its popularity was the scorched earth response, in which government forces and government-supported Janjaweed militias burned hundreds of villages and displaced more than a third of the population. Yet, the SLA has become paralysed by a debilitating leadership dispute, which has made progress in the negotiations impossible. Its weak political structures have been unable to cope with the movementís rapid expansion, and personal disputes within the leadership have degenerated into divisions along tribal lines. Efforts to unify the movement have been unsuccessful, though they are ongoing. Until the internal disputes can be overcome and the SLA leadership returns to Darfur, there is little hope for substantial progress in the AU-led political negotiations.
1. Roots of the Movement
An underlying cause of the rebellion was the governmentís consistent alignment with nomadic groups of Arab origin against the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit in their frequent disputes over natural resources. The Fur had fought in the mountainous fertile belt of Jebel Marra for more than a decade against marauding Arab militias attracted by the areaís rich natural resources. By July 2000, when attacks resumed on Fur villages, the tribeís ragtag youth self-defence groups merged to form a broader movement. In the mid-1990s self-defence militias formed in western Darfur among the Massaleit people in response to raids by Arab nomadic groups. The Arab-Massaleit conflict received little international notice at the time but was a precursor of the 2003/2004 massive ethnic cleansing campaign. A series of conflicts between the Zaghawa Tuer and Awalad Zeid from late 1999 through May 2001 in the Kornoi area of Dar Gala and the subsequent breakdown of traditional conflict resolution processes spurred some Zaghawa Tuer to take up arms.
In August 2001, a small group of Zaghawa travelled from North Darfur to Jebel Marra to help train Fur recruits against the Arab raiders. Many Zaghawa had acquired professional military training in the Chadian or Sudanese armies, a fact that has caused them to predominate in the upper ranks of the insurgency to this day. The visitors were initially welcomed by the Fur, and the training went on until May 2002. When it became clear that the movement was evolving into an armed rebellion against the central government, however, many grew uneasy with the rebelsí presence, fearing reprisals.
Nevertheless, a conference of 42 people in Butke, Jebel Marra in March 2002 created the new movement, giving the position of chairman to a Fur, the military command to a Zaghawa, and the deputy chairmanship to the Massaleit, with each tribe to pick its representative. The Zaghawa chose Abdallah Abakar as military commander, the Fur Abdel Wahid Mohamed el-Nur as chairman, and the Massaleit Mansour Arbab as deputy chairman, though he was soon replaced by the current deputy, Khamees Abdallah. Minni Arko Minawi, the current secretary general of the movement and the chief rival to Abdel Wahid, succeeded Abdallah Abakar after the latterís death in January 2004. This structure remains the basis of the SLA leadership.
In August 2002, the then Governor of North Darfur, General Ibrahim Suleiman, met with Fur tribal leaders in Nyertete and urged them to convince the Zaghawa armed youths to leave Jebel Marrain, in return for which he promised an end to impunity for Arab raids. Meanwhile, prominent Zaghawa politicians in Khartoum were sent to persuade the Zaghawa to negotiate with the government. The Zaghawa did leave Jebel Marra for North Darfur in October 2002 and start talks with the government with a view to disbanding the armed elements. Abdel Wahid and most of his Fur soldiers were left behind. The negotiations were likely tactical for the rebels, however, an effort to buy time while preparing for battle.
Minniís Zaghawa branch grew quickly, receiving substantial support from Zaghawa in the Chadian army, and soon began its remarkable string of successes against the government throughout North Darfur. As the military prowess of the Zaghawa-wing grew, the Fur continued to operate in the Jebel Marra area, while the Massaleit, under former SPLM Commander Adam ďBazookaĒ, conducted operations in their tribal areas of West Darfur.
The movement was publicly launched as the Darfur Liberation Front following an attack on a government outpost in Golo, Jebel Marra, in mid-February 2003. Early the next month, the late John Garang arranged for Abdallah Abakar, Minni Arko Minawi, and two Fur representatives to visit his SPLM headquarters at Rumbek, in Sudanís south, for consultations. What emerged was the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (henceforth SLA), complete with a charter clearly inspired by the SPLMís manifesto and ďNew SudanĒ ideology, emphasising unity, democracy, secularism, and the equality of all citizens regardless of origin, creed, or culture. Garang provided weapons and training to the SLA but this ultimately proved to be one of the movementís most divisive issues.
2. The struggle for leadership
Rebel success caused the government to recruit the Janjaweed militias to bolster its forces in the region and to manipulate the ethnic divide in Darfur for political gain. Khartoum also aimed to isolate the three branches of the SLA by exploiting their geographical and ethnic differences. Forced to operate relatively independently from each other, with limited interaction between Abdel Wahidís wing in Jebel Marra and the Zaghawa military juggernaut under Abdallah Abakar and Minni in North Darfur, divisions soon emerged. Adding to the tension was the perception that although the Zaghawa provided the bulk of SLA military strength, Fur and Massaleit civilians bore the brunt of the governmentís scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign since the remote and difficult terrain in Dar Zaghawa and the high mobility of Zaghawa rebels made such attacks riskier there. As it herded hundreds of thousands of Fur and Massaleit into makeshift camps, the government intensified its propaganda in Darfur and the country at large about an alleged design to build a ďGreater Zaghawa StateĒ stretching across other tribal areas in Sudan and Chad.
The massive government offensive in December 2003-February 2004 forced most of the Zaghawa branch of the SLA from their stronghold in North Darfur to safer areas in South Darfur. In the summer of 2004, a group of several hundred Zaghawa SLA troops from Hamaraya invaded Jebel Marra, reportedly on Minniís orders, in an attempt to wrest political control of the movement from Abdel Wahidís followers. The attack ended prematurely, reportedly due to Eritrean pressure on Minni, but the episode soured relations between Fur and Zaghawa politicians in the diaspora, with the former accusing the latter of having encouraged Minni.
The rapid expansion and intensification of the conflict overwhelmed the leaders and their nascent structures. Over time, the animosity between Minni and Abdel Wahid grew as they jostled for primacy. Whereas Minni considers that Zaghawa military strength should be reflected in the leadership, Abdel Wahid and other non-Zaghawa insist on the original tribal allocations of positions, including a Fur as chairman. Despite the plight of their people, the SLA leaders have been unable to resolve these divisions, creating further openings for Khartoum to manipulate and divide their movement.
The March/April 2004 Nídjamena cease-fire negotiations and subsequent internationally-brokered talks led to an intensification of the power struggle. Shortly after the Nídjamena negotiations, most SLA leaders travelled to Asmara and Nairobi where they received support from the Eritrean government and the SPLM, respectively. When Minni returned to Darfur in May 2005, it had been over a year since he had visited his troops in the field. Abdel Wahid has not returned to Darfur since March 2004. As the divisions grew between the leaders in exile, a gulf predictably emerged between them and the field commanders. This has led to the emergence of new leaders in the field, a gradual breakdown in military command and control, including a sharp rise in banditry, and the loss of legitimacy for the external leadership in the eyes of the international community as well as some elements of the SLA.
The AU-led political negotiations, which resumed in Abuja in August 2004 following an aborted round the previous month in Addis Ababa, have been a mixed blessing for the SLA. Because the leadership has been abroad for so long, the talks have at times offered a welcome venue for it to meet and consult with the field commanders. However, more often than not, the rivalry between the two factions has crippled the SLAís negotiating efforts, undermining its ability to offer a credible and united front. For example, Minni and Abdel Wahid routinely submit separate lists of delegates to the AU for accreditation. The divisions were most evident in the June/July 2005 round, when a small group loyal to Minni led by spokesman Mahjoub Hussein and Abdul Jabbar Dousa tried to remove Abdel Wahid as the head of delegation mid-way through the talks.
Despite high-level reconciliation efforts from regional leaders, the chasm between Abdel Wahid and Minni continues to widen. As international pressure has forced Khartoum to scale back military operations, cracks in the SLA have become more apparent, aggravating the fault line between the two main ethnic groups, the Fur and the Zaghawa. Elements within the factions have exploited tribal differences and animosity, especially toward the Zaghawa. The irony of the political paralysis is that there is agreement on the political agenda. The division stems mainly from personal animosity but the stakes are high. The SLA needs to put aside personal differences and take responsibility for the plight of the civilians it claims to represent.
3. Unifying the movement
The danger of these divisions has been recognised by many Darfurians and foreign observers alike, who are trying to help the SLA work through them. In a late January/early February 2005 leadership meeting in Asmara, those present (including Minni and Abdel Wahid) agreed on the need for a general SLA field conference to help overcome the split and build structures. A small committee tasked to organise it immediately ran into trouble as Abdel Wahid and Minni jostled for control over the size, attendance and venue of the conference.
Following the June-July 2005 Abuja negotiations, most SLA leaders travelled to Libya, where unsuccessful attempts were made to organise an ad hoc leadership meeting in Kufra. Counting on the support of the bulk of the Zaghawa troops, Minni pushed for a field conference with the military leadership. Knowing that the Fur are poorly represented in the military leadership, Abdel Wahid supports a more inclusive conference as a step toward building the SLA politically, an area in which it is lacking. He argues that a conference should include all elements of the movement -- among which he counts student groups, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and women -- as well as all Darfur tribes. He fears that a military-only conference would reinforce the primacy of the military mentality in the movement, which he claims to oppose.
With the two top leaders locked in a stalemate, efforts are underway to find a compromise. While Minniís recent return to Darfur initially appeared to strengthen his support on the ground, there are reports of serious abuses of the civilian population in the areas east of Jebel Marra controlled by, or exposed to, the operations of his faction. Minni has been working to organise a political-military conference in Darfur and is pressing Abdel Wahid to attend. Abdel Wahid has resisted and tried to undercut Minni by pushing for the AU talks to resume on 15 September (Minni wanted a postponement in order to convene the field conference) and using his attendance at the talks to strengthen his hand.
The regional actors reacted in different ways. Chad hosted a preparatory meeting for the field conference in NíDjamena and agreed to allow many Darfurians in the diaspora to enter its territory for the first time in months. Libya reportedly supported the Chadian effort financially, while Eritrea seems to have strengthened its contacts with Abdel Wahid and facilitated a series of meetings in Asmara between him and the JEM leaders, with a view to countering Minniís perceived strength. Dr Sharif Harir, a prominent Darfur academic and former SLA negotiator, is also trying to mobilise military support for a conference and reorganisation of the movement. Ultimately, the preparatory meetings in NíDjamena failed to yield any concrete result, and Sharifís attempt may have backfired. Some representatives of the field commanders did fly to Abuja but have made it clear they oppose any substantive talks until the field conference is held.
An outbreak of fighting in early and mid-September also can be traced back to the SLA division. The looting at the beginning of that month of several thousand cattle from Arab nomads near Malam was committed by SLA soldiers connected with Minni. The camels were taken to Jebel Marra, leading to retaliatory attacks by Arab tribes. In mid-September, the SLA attacked at least three towns in South Darfur, briefly capturing Sheiria.
The ongoing fighting seriously undermines the Abuja negotiations, and a divided and paralysed SLA virtually guarantees continued conflict and is a disaster for the people of Darfur. A divided movement will not be able to extract a sustainable, negotiated political settlement from the government, one which addresses the root causes of the rebellion.
It is not realistic for the international community to delay the Abuja peace talks every time one faction requests it. The onus is on the SLA leadership to avoid further meltdown, and the international community must assist that it take decisive action to unify the movement. The first and most important step is for the political leaders to return to Darfur as soon as possible. Minniís return was a positive step, and pressure should be put on Abdel Wahid to follow. The second step is to complete the field conference, which should have three main tasks:
to review and revise the leadership and develop more broad-based structures as necessary.
to agree on political demands for the Abuja negotiations and give the delegation a mandate. It is crucial for the future of the movement that it begin to deal with the issues of power and wealth sharing in an open and inclusive manner, as this is where it is well positioned to capture the support of broader Darfurian constituencies; and
to take steps to restore command and control over the troops and put an end to the banditry which has become commonplace among certain elements.
Paradoxically, international pressure on the rebels is unlikely to be effective so long as the movement remains splintered. To assist the SLA in achieving greater unity, particularly the AU, UN, U.S., European Union (EU), UK, neighbouring countries, and bilateral donors need to take the following two steps:
coordinate messages and actions. The SLAís factions are presently playing the international community against itself, with each drawing support from its own external backers. and
give necessary support to an all-inclusive field conference, including travel assistance, food aid, and security guarantees. However, this should be conditioned on the conference being sufficiently inclusive and non-partisan, including the participation of women, not a gathering of elites designed to advance one faction over the other.
If unification continues to be unachievable, then the international community should be prepared to recognise that the SLA is in fact two separate factions, representing different interests and with different bases of support, and treat these as distinct movements. This would be dangerous, since it would likely cause a split along tribal lines and could lead to more conflict. However it might break the stalemate. Negotiations could proceed, although probably in a piecemeal fashion, undermining the chances for a comprehensive political solution in Darfur akin to what the SPLM negotiated with the government, but allowing separate political solutions that might contribute to greater stability on the ground in the short term.
B. THE JEM
Weaker militarily but possibly more cohesive politically, the JEM has three distinguishing characteristics:
its national political agenda, including alleged links to Islamist ideologue Dr Hassan el-Turabiís Popular Congress (PC) and to armed groups in Eastern Sudan;
its usually antagonistic relationship with the Chadian government; and
its small but divided military wing;
Although its military presence in Darfur is much smaller than the SLAís, JEMís political ideology is more strongly articulated. Unlike the SLA, whose political vision is focused primarily on Darfur (though the SPLMís influence has led over time to an increased emphasis on national themes), JEMís elaborate political positions call for a restructuring of the entire nation, with a return to the six original regions and rotating presidents from each region. As part of its national campaign, it has established strong links with the eastern rebels and has joined the new Eastern Front together with the Rashaida Free Lions and the Beja Congress. The JEM also boasts of support in Kordofan, the Northern Nile Valley and Southern Sudan.
JEM's origins date back to the early 1990s, and it has been controversial since its inception because of its alleged links with Turabi and the PC. Some authors of the now famous Black Book, which gives statistical evidence for the ďmarginalisationĒ of the countryís peripheral regions by three riverain tribes (the Danaqla, the Shaiqiyya and the Jaíaliyiin) became leaders of the JEM.
The suspicion surrounding JEMís links with Turabiís Islamist faction attaches mostly to the movementís leader, Dr Khalil Ibrahim, a high ranking member of the Islamist government throughout the 1990s. He and the rest of the JEM leadership claim to have broken completely with Turabi, despite government accusations that the movement is Turabiís tool. Darfurians also frequently complain that Khalil is not truly interested in their region and is using the situation as a stepping-stone to power in Khartoum. There are increasing indications that ties remain between the PC and the JEM leadership. One clue is the seemingly inexhaustible funding available to JEM, relative to other opposition movements in Sudan, including the SLA. It is alleged that this money is channelled from the PC through former Turabi bagman Dr Ali al-Haj, who, like Khalil, previously resided in Germany.
The failed September 2004 coup in Khartoum seemed to expose a close connection between JEM and the PC. The regime pre-emptively arrested many PC members, and Khalil admitted that JEM helped organise the attempt. A frank interview with the head of the Rashaida Free Lions, Mabruk Mubarak Salim, also confirmed JEMís involvement in the affair, which Salim claimed to have helped plan and organise. If JEM was involved and the government had good reason to arrest PC cadres, then there can be little doubt of at least a close tactical alliance between the two movements, despite Khalilís denials. The questions have proven increasingly divisive among the JEM military leadership and rank and file.
Unlike the SLM, JEMís political leadership has been based outside Darfur since the beginning of the conflict. Much of it, including Khalil, comes from the Kube sub-clan of the Zaghawa, where JEM enjoys support in both Darfur and Chad. The movement reportedly recruits extensively in Chad, including from within the army, thereby strengthening the impression that its foot soldiers may be little more than mercenaries, whose political naivetť is exploited by diaspora politicians hoping to advance their ambitions in Khartoum.
JEM has a particularly antagonistic relationship with the Chadian government and President Idriss Deby. Intra-Zaghawa tension between Debyís Bideyat sub-clan and Khalilís Kube is compounded by personal animosity between the two. Chad is essentially a Zaghawa-dominated police state, and Deby relies heavily on the loyalty of the Zaghawa in the security services. Many, including Khalil, explain Debyís hatred of JEM as stemming from the fear that should a Zaghawa-Kube-led movement succeed in Sudan, it would draw away large numbers of Debyís Zaghawa support base. By contrast, the SLA is largely supported by the Tuer Zaghawa, who reside almost entirely in Darfur and do not pose the same threat to Deby because they are not a cross-border clan like the Kube and the Bideyat. Chadian officials have a long list of additional complaints against JEM which help explain the poisoned relationship, including fear that its political aspirations may extend into the country. JEMís attitude is no less hostile; its delegation refused to allow the Chadian government to be included in the AUís mediation team at the June-July 2005 Abuja negotiations.
Two major battlefield splits have severely weakened the JEM. The first occurred just prior to the opening of the Nídjamena negotiations. At a meeting of field commanders in Jebel Karo on 23 March 2004, the military chief of staff, a former Chadian officer named Gibril Abdel-Karim Bari, defected taking many of the top officers with him. Gibril and his group claim to have split in rejection of Khalilís continued links with Turabi and pursuit of a national Islamist agenda that did not focus strongly on Darfur issues. On 17 April, they formed the National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD) and established a stronghold in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur. Sensing an opportunity to weaken Khalil and divide the JEM, the Chadian government, reportedly with Khartoumís backing, immediately began providing military and financial support and attempted to include its delegation in the August 2004 Abuja talks. The AU mediation team refused, and NMRD signed its own ceasefire with Khartoum in December 2004, although there were renewed clashes with the government in Jebel Moon three months later.
NMRD now appears a largely spent force, politically and militarily, facing widespread allegations of corruption and misappropriation of financial assets. It resurfaced in the news in mid-September 2005, however, with a statement that it was abandoning the December ceasefire and preparing to resume hostilities in response to repeated government attacks and its exclusion from the Abuja negotiations.
The second split occurred in April 2005, when former senior field commander Mohamed Salih Harba attempted to remove Khalil as chairman. A senior member of JEMís negotiating team in Abuja, he had been kicked out of the movement in mid-February for attending the meeting of the AU Joint Commission in Nídjamena, against Khalilís wishes. On 10 April, Mohamed Salih and some 60 field commanders issued a statement establishing a Revolutionary Field Command of JEM and purporting to remove Khalil from his positions. The statement detailed a number of criticisms, including allegations of corruption and use of JEM as a front for international terrorism and fundamental Islam. The dissidents cited as justification for their action Khalilís continued ties to Turabiís PC and extended absence from the field, as well as obstruction of efforts by field commanders to improve relations with neighbouring countries and collaborate with the SLA.
The breakaway group established a Provisional Revolutionary Collective Leadership Council of twenty members led by Mohamed Salih, which described its guiding principles as a united, genuinely federal and egalitarian Sudan based on respect for the rule of law and internationally recognised fundamental rights, and commitment to obtaining a negotiated settlement of the Darfur conflict through the Abuja process. Politically in line with the SLA, even in earlier rounds of negotiations, Mohamed Salih and some of his followers went to Abuja for the June-July talks but the AU mediation team denied them entry.
Khalil accused Chad of orchestrating this split and of having unsuccessfully attempted to incite another by field commanders in East Darfur in early April. There are wildly divergent reports concerning Mohamed Salihís popularity among JEM troops: some Darfurian leaders estimate that he initially controlled as much as 75 per cent of them, while others suggest he has fewer than 100 soldiers.
Mohamed Salihís challenge and Chadian opposition have clearly increased Khalilís receptivity to negotiations with Khartoum. Shortly after Mohamed Salih released his statement, Khalil began making more positive overtures toward the peace process. JEM opened a secret negotiating channel with Khartoum and held at least one clandestine meeting with high-ranking government officials in Europe in late April 2005. Although JEM splinter groups tend to be dismissed by Sudanese Zaghawa as Chadian puppets, the splits indicate that the political leadership has limited control over its military wing, which raises doubts about its ability to enforce a peace settlement. Rumours that Khalil has accepted massive Libyan payouts in the past few months, discussed below, have further damaged the movementís credibility.
Relations between the Chadians and JEM have improved thanks to an AU-facilitated meeting between President Deby and a small JEM delegation in Nídjamena on 24 September, soon after the official opening of the negotiating session in Abuja.. The parties agreed that Chad would cease hostilities towards JEM, as well as efforts for the time being to push for an SLA field conference, in exchange for JEM welcoming Chadís return as a co-mediator in Abuja. Time will tell if this dťtente will last. For the moment, it has drastically downgraded the status of the two JEM splinter factions, neither of which has attempted to gain admittance to the current round of peace talks.
Although the JEM is not as critical to a solution on the ground as the SLA, the international community should take the same line: pressing its leadership to return to Darfur and supporting a movement-wide conference to test its much-claimed commitment to democracy.
C. SLA/JEM CLASHES
The SLA has always been suspicious of JEMís links to Turabi and the PC and dismissive of its military prowess, while JEM often considers the larger insurgency inexperienced and unsophisticated. Nevertheless, the two movements fought side-by-side against their common enemy during the early months of the insurrection. They also coordinated negotiations through joint delegations until the October-November 2004 Abuja round.
Their differences boiled over in early 2005, however. JEM, weakened by defections, sought to buy SLA commanders to boost its forces. Open conflict broke out in late May over control of the strategic town of Muhajeria, ahead of the AUís Verification Mission to establish lines of territorial control. A respected SLA commander and a relative of Minni, Abdullah Doume, was killed by JEM forces. The SLA pursued JEM fighters to Graida, a town with a small AU troop presence, and attacked them there, resulting in eleven civilians killed, seventeen wounded, and several houses damaged or destroyed. Overmatched on the battlefield, some JEM fighters fled to their home base in North Darfur, and others surrendered to the AU.
Using well-armed forces from as far away as El-Fasher, the SLA attacked JEM again three weeks later in Bamina, near the border town of Tine in North Darfur. Chad sealed the border to prevent JEM from crossing it. JEM survived the offensive but the ferocity of fighting showed how far apart the movements have drifted.
There are two explanations. Some claim the SLA, at Chadís urging, decided to destroy JEM before the Abuja talks resumed. JEMís Khartoum-focused agenda complicates the negotiations for the SLA, and it may have wished to conduct them as Darfurís sole representative. Others believe the fighting has a strong clan-dimension because it seems to fall along Zaghawa-Tuer (SLA)/Zaghawa-Kube (JEM) lines. Irrespective of motivation, suspicions of Chadís involvement undermined Minni with Darfurian politicians, while JEM may benefit from consistently resisting that governmentís perceived meddling.
D. THE SLA-JEM RECONCILIATION PROCESS IN LIBYA
Libya likely thwarted further SLA attacks against JEM. Minni and Khalil are reportedly close to President Khaddafi and his intelligence apparatus, and the Libyan leader recognised the potentially devastating consequences of the internecine fighting.
In mid-July, Libya initiated reconciliation talks under the auspices of prominent leaders of the Darfur Forum. It established a mediation committee made up of that organisationís chief figures, including General Ibrahim Suleiman and General Siddiq Mohamed Ismael. Two groups of Darfurian elders, one chaired by a Fur, the other by a Massaleit, were formed to investigate the cause of the intra-Zaghawa fighting and arrange compensation for civilians. These efforts produced a public ceasefire agreement between Khalil and Abdel Wahid on 18 July 2005, and an uneasy calm has held since. The two leaders also agreed to unify their negotiating positions just prior to the resumption of the September Abuja talks.
While this might re-establish tribal harmony in areas under rebel control, there are several reasons to be cautious. Support for the initiative is decidedly lukewarm. Enthusiasm for the Darfur Forum is on the decline. The most consistently secular rebel leaders, including Abdel Wahid, have long mistrusted the Islamist background and political ambitions of many of its members,. Others are uneasy about the presence in the Forum of members of the National Congress Party (NCP), Sudanís long-time ruling party, including its chair, General Ibrahim Suleiman, which they believe has caused the Forum to soften its positions on the crisis. In recent weeks the Forum has also come under harsh criticism from some of its own members, who also fear that it has been co-opted by the government.
However, the government has by no means favoured the Forum, which it prevented from being invited to the third round of all-Darfur consultations in Tripoli in May 2005. It also created a parallel forum -- mainly composed of Arab tribes and chaired by Adam Hamid, the former Governor of West Darfur -- and sought unsuccessfully to unify the entities. Nonetheless, the Forum still counts individuals who enjoy the confidence of the rebels and can be instrumental in assisting them to overcome their disputes.
Implementation of the ceasefire will be difficult, and a political agreement reached in Tripoli could further fuel discord in Darfur among military commanders. Further, while the Libyan agreement includes the leadersí pledge to unify their vision for the Abuja negotiations, it has yet to translate into a formal joint negotiating position, and divisions could easily re-emerge in the talks. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent even Abdel Wahidís own group, let alone JEM and wider Darfurian constituencies, have been involved in any meaningful consultation with the movementís chairman on the political and economic agenda of the peace talks. Finally, there is poor communication between the Libyan peace initiative in Darfur and the Abuja process.
III. THE EXTERNAL ACTORS
For sixteen years, the Sudanese governmentís primary counter-insurgency strategy has been to displace and kill civilians to weaken a rebellionís support base, while actively dividing and co-opting the rebels. It has followed this blueprint steadfastly in Darfur. The architects of the ethnic cleansing there have retained significant power in the new government of national unity, which thus far remains unwilling to take the military and political steps needed to resolve the conflict: neutralising the Janjaweed militias and establishing genuine power and wealth sharing between Darfur and Khartoum.
Moving against the Janjaweed poses many risks for the government. The militias could turn on it militarily. If it arrests Janjaweed leaders and hands them over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the militia leaders could expose the details of the counter-insurgency campaign against civilians. Darfurians want a share of national power and wealth that is commensurate with their numbers, but this is anathema to the ruling party. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Khartoum and the SPLM reduced the ruling partyís former monopoly of power to 52 per cent, and it is adamant against shrinking this further, especially in the North and in the central government.
Nevertheless, the government recognises the enormous external costs of the war in Darfur. Key officials face potential indictment by the ICC, the UN Security Council has authorised sanctions (though it has been painfully slow to implement them), and relations with the U.S., which had appeared on the mend, have been set back badly, including the hope that its sanctions would be lifted, allowing increased competition in the oil sector. To buy breathing room, the government has made cosmetic improvements. Although it retains a close alliance with the Janjaweed, and militia activity remains high, steps like the grounding of flights by the Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships have won Khartoum some international respite at a time when the rebel movements appear to be imploding.
Simultaneously, the government continues to exploit and exacerbate rebel divisions, improving its position at the negotiating table. It has exploited resource-based conflict between the Zaghawa and Fur, thus widening the gap between the largest SLA supporters. Government officials and state-owned media, playing on an old theme, claim the Zaghawa plan a Greater Zaghawa State (Dulla al-Zaghawa al-Kubra) in Sudan and Chad. The government media also advances the claim that Zaghawa seek to steal Fur land in Jebel Marra and elsewhere, an idea that some Fur accept due to Zaghawa migration from North Darfur and resettlement in South Darfur over the past 40 years. One ruling party official admitted that the government had established a special unit to sow divisions among the rebels.
According to government officials in Darfur, support by the Fur and Massaleit for the armed rebellion is waning. Officials calculate that these devastated communities are inclined to support tribal reconciliation so as to curtail the violence directed towards them. To deepen the wedge between the Fur and Zagahwa and regain control, the government initiated a series of tribal reconciliation meetings in the first half of 2005. It is also trying to entice IDPs to return home with cash payoffs, using a weakened and sometimes complicit native administration as intermediary and thereby driving a further wedge between the traditional authorities and the population and fuelling corruption and improper use of international relief.
The government calculates that these reconciliation processes and compensation schemes will weaken support for the rebels, reduce local calls for international trials, pacify and stabilise southern, western, and central Darfur, and contain the SLA (primarily the Zaghawa-wing) in northern Darfur. Unlike a genuine political solution with provisions for security arrangements and wealth and power sharing, none of these initiatives threatens NCP power in Khartoum. Many Darfurians see through the governmentís tactics and dismiss the reconciliation meetings as a sham. IDPs are wary of returning to their villages, especially since those who do are often attacked.
Most Darfurians do not trust the government, but rebel divisions and the prospect of protracted local conflicts could increase Khartoumís success in buying some small level of support among them. Khartoumís promises of compensation, returns and tribal reconciliation may start to seem more attractive than the divided rebellionís promises of eventual security and power and wealth-sharing.
B. The SPLM
The recent death of its chairman John Garang, will undoubtedly have an impact on internal SPLM dynamics. His successor, Salva Kiir, has said he wants to end the Darfur conflict, and contacts have been re-established with the SLA. However he is unlikely to be as involved with Darfur as Garang was, largely because of the other challenges he faces as he attempts to fill his predecessorís shoes in implementing the CPA.
The SPLM gave military and political aid to the SLA during its formation, and Garang retained close ties with its leaders. He is reported to have favoured Minni initially but to have shifted to Abdel Wahid when it became clear that the formerís military strength was a threat to his own ambition to control the rebelsí agenda. In view of Garangís enormous prestige, his perceived support gave Abdel Wahid great additional clout inside the SLA. Although the perception of this support was almost certainly greater then the reality, there were persistent rumours that the SPLM gave military support specifically to Abdel Wahidís contingent in Jebel Marra. Regardless of the validity of these rumours, Garangís death weakens Abdel Wahid in dealing with Minniís faction.
The growing perception among Darfurians, and northerners more broadly, that Garangís death diminishes the likelihood the South will vote to keep Sudan together in the southern self-determination referendum six years hence strengthens those who believe Darfur must seek its own solution, regardless of national alliances. This development should be watched closely: it could lead to a rebel negotiating agenda divorced from the new Sudanese realities produced by the Khartoum-SPLM peace. The Government of National Unity announced on 20 September in Khartoum, with its limited representation of Northern opposition forces and of Darfur and other marginalised regions of the North and exclusion of the SPLM from the revenue (energy and finance) and security (interior and defence) ministries, has dashed most domestic and international hopes that the National Congress Party is really willing to share power in the spirit of the CPA.
The SPLM is engaging, although more slowly than expected, on the Darfur file. A high-level delegation is expected to travel to Abuja in the coming days to hear the views of the rebel movements and then submit to the Council of Ministers a draft proposal for a political solution to the conflict.
From its onset, the conflict in Darfur has threatened the Deby regime. First, there was the cost of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees and the risk that fighting, spurred by the incursions of Janjaweed -- some of them Chadian Arabs -- would spread across the border and produce parallel African-Arab troubles. That risk increased as Debyís tight grip on power provoked strong opposition to the government and its Zaghawa supporters. Secondly, the conflict pitted Debyís Zaghawa kinsmen -- his most important domestic constituency -- against his more powerful neighbour, Sudan. To choose sides would mean political suicide.
Deby acted along four lines to contain the conflict and minimise its impact: first, mediation between the Sudanese government and the rebels to secure a ceasefire; secondly, more border security, including French troops, to limit the flow of arms into Darfur; thirdly, deployment of officials into eastern Chad to quell tribal tensions; and fourthly, interference with the internal politics of the rebellion, in collaboration with intelligence circles in Khartoum and independently. His strategy has contained the immediate risks but the attempts to appease both the Zaghawa and Khartoum have been more problematic.
Zaghawa from Darfur were instrumental in Debyís campaign to overthrow former President Hissein Habre. Many Sudanese Zaghawa who fought for Deby were incorporated into his security apparatus. At the onset of the insurgency, the SLA lobbied Deby to return the favour but he held back.
According to many observers, Deby feared that if he supported the SLA and it succeeded in Sudan, Chadian security forces who joined the rebels might eventually threaten his regime. This fear was reinforced when JEM joined the fray since it was able to pay Chadian volunteers and even army officers more and more regularly than Debyís government. JEM has likewise bought weapons and ammunition from entrepreneurial elements of the Chadian military.
Deby also feared a backlash from Khartoum due to the strong ties between the Sudanese and Chadian Zaghawa. At the start of the insurgency, Sudan perceived that the rebels were benefiting from cross-border Zaghawa support, especially that of kinsmen in the military and security apparatus. It pressured Deby to deny official support to the rebels and to crack down on the cross-border traffic of people and weapons. As the insurgency gained momentum in early 2003, Sudanís then Minister of Interior, Abdel-Rahim Mohammed Hussein, flew to Nídjamena to urge Chadian officials to close the border to the rebels and work more closely with Khartoum. Shortly after, Deby reciprocated the trip, and by April 2003 he had sent 800 troops into Darfur to fight beside the Sudanese army.
Direct threats caused the regime initially to try to accommodate Khartoumís demands at any costs. Chad was the lead mediator between the government of Sudan and the rebels from August to December 2003. However, the ceasefire it brokered between the SLA and the government in September 2003 met none of the rebelsí political demands and was routinely violated by the government, its militias, JEM (not a signatory), and non-Zaghawa elements of the SLA.
In addition to diplomatic pressure, Khartoum has tried to keep Nídjamena on its side by supporting Chadian rebels in Darfur and allowing cross-border Janjaweed raids. In January 2004 it bombed the Chadian half of the border town of Tine. Although the Janjaweed incursions have tapered off, due in part to bolstered Chadian army/French border patrols, Khartoum maintains close ties to the Chadian rebels. However, a cross-border Janjaweed attack on a Chadian village in late September 2005, in which as many as 75 people were killed, again heightened tensions between the two neighbours.
In April 2005, Chad officially objected to Sudanese support for some 3,000 Chadian rebels near the border and threatened to withdraw as a mediator. Khartoum quickly appeased Deby, however, and averted a crisis, sending a team to Nídjamena, reportedly with money, and allowing Chad to arrest a few particularly threatening rebel leaders based in Darfur. It also agreed to re-deploy the Chadian rebels deeper inside Darfur. Nevertheless, those elements remain in Darfur, and the Sudanese army is alleged to have opened training sites for them in Um Tajok and other parts of West Darfur. The clear message is, if you support our rebels, we will support yours.
The uneasy alliance with Khartoum has had consequences for Deby. He is under enormous pressure from Chadian Zaghawa -- most importantly those within the military -- who perceive that he will sacrifice members of his own ethnic group to curry Sudanese favour. Zaghawa officers warned Chadian soldiers sent to fight the SLA in April 2003 not to attack, and threatened Deby with retaliation if they moved against Darfur rebels. Many officers in the army and security services have defied the president to support the rebels.
On 16 May 2004, while Deby visited France, a part of his army prepared an attack on Nídjamena from the forests in Gasi. Zaghawa Bideyat officers angry at Debyís cooperation with Khartoum and discontented with their share of government patronage reportedly led the coup attempt. Upon hearing of the threat, Deby returned, and the plotters were talked down through the mediation of a top general. ďWe chose not to announce the coup because the Zaghawa could lose control of the countryĒ, explained a participant. ďSo we covered it up and tried to keep it inside the Zaghawa, until the international community found outĒ.
Over time, JEM has become a growing concern for Deby. While it has tried to create a diverse movement with national representation, most of its rank-and-file and key commanders are Zaghawa-Kube, attracted by Khalil, one of the tribeís prominent leaders, who appointed kinsmen to important positions. As mentioned above, it is too early to tell whether the recent JEM-Chad rapprochement will last.
While Deby has sought to destroy JEM, his policies toward the SLA are more difficult to classify. At first, it seemed he was suspicious that the SLA also sought to capture power in Nídjamena. These suspicions coupled with strong pressure forced him to side with Khartoum. There are, however, high ranking members of the Chadian government who recognise the value of supporting SLA unity so the movement can negotiate a comprehensive political solution. This group is motivated particularly by concern for the implications of the large refugee population in eastern Chad. Their argument appears to be gaining credence in Nídjamena. In early September 2005, Chad sponsored a leadership meeting of the SLA in the capital to try to resolve the dispute between Minni and Abdel Wahid and the confusion around Minniís efforts to hold a field conference. Although Minni, Adbel Wahid and Deputy Chairman Khamees failed to attend, the conference marked a drastic shift in official Chadian policy and has raised hope Chad can become a force for unity instead of division.
President Khadaffiís involvement in Sudan dates back to the early 1970ís, though it has taken different and sometimes conflicting directions. Direct Libyan and Egyptian interventions were decisive in foiling the 19 July 1971 communist-led coup against the Arab nationalist government of President Nimeiri. In the early 1980ís, Khadaffiís policy was driven by his hostility towards the Nimeiri government and his use of Darfur as a staging ground for intervention in Chadís civil wars. The former included logistical and military support to the SPLM for the war in the South, while the latter involved support for the Arab Gathering (al-tajammu al-arabi), which was a part of his early efforts to assist populations of Arab origin to take power in sub-Saharan Central and West Africa.
In the aftermath of the 1986 Sudanese elections, in which Sadiq al-Mahdiís victory was attributed in part to Khadaffiís financial support, Khartoum allowed the Libyans to recruit Darfurian Arabs for the war in Chad and tolerated a de-facto Libyan occupation of parts of Darfur. Libyan arms supplied to Chadian and Sudanese Arab tribes across the lax borders are among the root causes of the current conflict in Darfur, as the migration of Chadian Arabs into North and West Darfur led to increasingly lethal fighting between pastoralists and farmers and between Arab and Zaghawa pastoralists.
The humiliating defeat of Khadaffi's Islamic Brigade in Chad in the first half of 1987 may have inspired the Arab Gatheringís plan to take over Darfur and later the rest of Sudan by people of Arab origin and Islamic faith. The ďArab beltĒ ideology provided support for the presence of Chadian Arab opposition groups in Darfur, who, assisted by their Sudanese ethnic kin, staged guerrilla attacks in eastern Chad. This racist ideology also provided legitimacy for the escalation of resource-based conflicts between nomadic Arab pastoralists and settled farmers, such as the Arab-Fur conflict in 1987-1989, and the Arab-Masaleit conflict in 1996-1998. Although the ďArab beltĒ project may be supported today by elites who have co-opted some traditional leaders, it is doubtful that it has any real grassroots constituency among populations of Arab origin in Darfur.
The Zaghawa, who share the same nomadic lifestyle as the Arab tribes of North Darfur, did not identify at that time with the camp of the ďAfricansĒ. Though the Chadian Zaghawa were part of the coalition that brought Hussein Habre to power in Nídjamena, their marginalisation by the dominant Goraan soured their relations with the regime and made rapprochement with Libya possible. This is when relations were established with the future Zaghawa leadership of the SLA and the JEM, as the Zaghawa, both Sudanese and Chadian, were instrumental in replacing Habre in December 1990 with Deby, in a coup discreetly supported by Tripoli and Khartoum. The Fur, the main targets of the Arab Gathering in Sudan, particularly during the 1987-1989 Arab-Fur war, tended instead to ally with the Chadian government during the 1980ís and so viewed Libya with deep suspicion.
This history explains why Khadaffiís recent attempts to mediate the Darfur crisis have generally been better accepted by the Zaghawa leaders, Minni and Khalil, than by the Fur and Massaleit elements under Abdel Wahid and Khamees. Khadaffi convened two rounds of all-Darfur consultations in October 2004 and January 2005, with the intention of providing a forum for prominent Darfurians to search for lasting solutions and helping to restore the regionís social fabric. Since the rebels were also invited, these consultations proved vital in the process of fine-tuning the armed oppositionís political agenda and facilitating its broader understanding by Darfurian leaders from inside Sudan. To Khartoumís dismay, these discussions also helped build consensus behind a common agenda among a broader Darfurian constituency and have been central to the emergence of the Darfur Forum mentioned above.
A May 2005 session of Libyaís all-Darfur consultations was less successful due to Khartoumís refusal to allow Darfurian leaders in the Sudanese capital to attend. There is also growing fear among Darfurians that Tripoliís real agenda is to bring the rebel movements to reject a role for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and discourage Western intervention in Darfur. Though both signed a ceasefire declaration in May, which does not mention either point, Abdel Wahid and the Darfur Forum quickly disassociated themselves from it.
Libyaís influence over some key elements within Minniís faction of the SLA and within JEM, links with several members of the Darfur Forum, and seemingly inexhaustible financial capacity make it an important player. Many observers believe Khadaffi is primarily motivated by fear of international intervention in his backyard; he has repeatedly stated opposition to the referral of Sudanese cases to the ICC and the involvement of NATO and other Western troops in Darfur. His relations with Sudan are mixed: he acknowledges Khartoum as a preferred ally, while trying to contain the destabilising effect of its policies in the region. Khaddafi, who in recent years has made major efforts to improve his relations with the West, has toned down his former pan-Arabist rhetoric and seeks international acceptance as an African peace-maker, willing to make humanitarian concessions in return for a Western commitment not to intervene directly in Darfur.
It remains unclear whether Darfurís mineral potential plays a significant role in Libyaís engagement, although this seems unlikely given the countryís own oil wealth. Many Darfurians live in Libya, most often as illegal labourers in the oil sector, in addition to the indigenous Zaghawa on the edge of the south-eastern desert. Remittances to Darfur have been severely curtailed by the war, and the unprecedented, widespread impoverishment makes further migration a distinct possibility. Control of migrant labour is likely a component of the Libyan negotiating strategy, as the threat of sending workers back to the Sudan could be a bargaining chip with the Darfurian community in Libya, Khartoum, the rebels and the international community alike.
Khadaffiís recent interventions, however, are increasingly difficult to understand. Stories of substantial payments to Khalil, Minni, and Abdel Wahid began to circulate following the January 2005 all-Darfur meeting. By early May, it was widely repeated in Darfurian circles that Khadaffi had given millions of dollars to both Khalil and Minni and a much smaller sum to Abdel Wahid. The plane carrying the SLA delegation to the June-July Abuja talks passed through Tripoli from Asmara, and the bulk of the SLA and JEM delegations went directly there after that round. Khadaffi organised a televised ceremony in which Minni, Abdel Wahid and Khalil handed him the recently signed Declaration of Principles, giving the impression that he controlled the rebels. In July, stories re-emerged of massive pay-outs to the JEM and SLA in exchange for agreement to a Libyan proposal. However, the rebels refused to sign the draft Libya presented.
While Khadaffiís Darfur policy is complex and ambiguous, he has provided the people of Darfur, within and outside Sudan, with invaluable opportunities to meet together. However, his financial support for individual rebel factions may have inadvertently fuelled their divisions. His mediation efforts outside the formal AU talks in Abuja should be closely monitored and better integrated into the wider diplomatic process of negotiating a political settlement.
Relations with Sudan have been tense since Eritreaís 1994 complaint to the UN Security Council about Khartoumís support to Eritrean Islamic Jihad, an extremist group bent on replacing President Isaias Afewerkiís regime with an Islamic state. In response, Eritrea hosted the Sudanese opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the former Sudanese embassy in Asmara, allowed NDA factions to set up recruitment and training camps along the border, and gave NDA fighters arms and logistical support. In 1996/1997, it began to support the establishment of the armed wing of the Darfurian SFDA of Governor Diraige and Sharif Harir.
The outbreak of their border war in 1998 caused Ethiopia and Eritrea to seek Sudanís support or at least neutrality. Khartoum used the opportunity to press both to scale back support for its armed opposition. As a result, the rebels of eastern Sudan and their SPLM allies under the NDAís unified military command relocated their camps inside Sudan. Low intensity warfare followed, with the rebels engaging in hit-and-run operations and the government launching air raids. Serious Khartoum/SPLM peace talks as of 2002 quieted the eastern front except for occasional flare ups, as all components of the NDA scaled down military activities.
However, the Darfur conflict brought new tensions to the East. The SLA joined the NDA and established bases in Asmara, and both Darfurian armed movements struck alliances with the rebel groups of eastern Sudan. In February 2004, out of frustration with the power and wealth sharing provisions for northern Sudan in the peace agreement being worked out by Khartoum and the SPLM and anger that the NDA had not been allowed to represent the Eastís concerns in the negotiations, the Beja Congress and the Rashaida Lions formed a new alliance -- the Eastern Front. The JEM later joined, and in June 2005 an Asmara-based spokesman claimed it had the largest force in the East. JEM demands that negotiations between the Eastern Front and the government be merged with the Abuja process on Darfur. Following the last minute agreement between the government and the NDA in June, which allowed the latter to participate in the National Constitutional Review Commission -- a key part of the Khartoum-SPLM peace -- the Eastern Front launched high-profile raids on government targets in the East to demonstrate the limitations of that NDA concession. Sudan blamed the military escalation on Eritrea, exacerbating mistrust between the two.
Since mid-2004, Eritrea has given discreet support -- passports, small amounts of weapons and ammunition, and training facilities -- to the Darfur rebels, the reason why both Minni and Abdel Wahid reside part-time in Asmara and Khalil has been a frequent visitor. It has also tried, unsuccessfully, to mediate between the two SLA factions and in September 2005 facilitated meetings between Abdel Wahid and Khalil that resulted in the joint document described above.
In the June-July 2005 round of Abuja negotiations, the SLA pushed for Eritreaís inclusion on the AU mediation team. The Khartoum delegation refused, which Ė along with disagreement over Chadís role Ė delayed commencement of the talks. A compromise was finally reached, which allowed the Eritreans to join the plenary sessions but not as formal mediators.
Eritrea wants to remain relevant in the determination of its neighbourís political future. It would like to see power shift in Khartoum from its long time adversary, the NCP, to its NDA allies and will likely continue to support both the Darfurian and Eastern Sudanese rebel movements until a comprehensive political solution can be found.
Unless reversed, the slow implosion of the rebel movements threatens to extend the tragic situation in Darfur indefinitely. The growing divide within the movements, particularly the SLA, has opened the door for Khartoum and various regional actors to pursue their own agendas and further weaken the rebels. Rather than ending the rebellion, splintering of the SLA and JEM would likely lead to the prevalence of warlordism throughout Darfur and make a political solution to the crisis impossible. SLA and JEM leaders must begin to put the needs of the people they claim to represent ahead of petty political calculations and return to Darfur immediately to conduct inclusive field conferences for the purpose of unifying their respective movements. The international community should support such field conferences as a vital step towards achieving a negotiated peace in Darfur.
Nairobi/Brussels, 6 October 2005
APPENDIX A (APPENDIX)
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