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Darfur rebel elections could fuel disunity - observers

11/4/2005 5:36am

NAIROBI, 4 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Observers fear that Thursday's election of Minni Arko Minnawi as the new president of Darfur's main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), will fracture the movement.

SLM/A mediators arrived at a reconciliation meeting on Sunday to try and resolve the dispute between its president, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, and its secretary-general, Minnawi, in order to present a unified front when the stalled African Union-sponsored peace talks resume on 21 November.

The conference, attended by thousands of SLM/A members, resulted in further disunity, however, as El-Nur refused to attend and Minnawi was elected president in his absence.

Although Minnawi urged Nur to join the talks, the former president declined to participate because he was not consulted during the preparations for the conference.

El-Nur said he would not recognise the congress' decisions, the BBC reported on Thursday, as he considered it an attempt by Minnawi to unseat him.

Growing rifts between both political leaders and military commanders, as well as between Zaghawa and Fur factions of the SLM/A, have led to a breakdown in the movement's command structure and contributed to the deadlock in the peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Observers in the region fear that Minnawi's election will lead to a formal split of the rebel group, further complicating the resolution of the region's conflict.

While Nur attended the latest round of peace talks in Abuja, Minnawi, who controls most of the movement's predominantly Zaghawa military wing, boycotted the negotiations.

Many members of the Zaghawa community have received professional military training in the Chadian and Sudanese armies and provide the bulk of SLM/A's military strength, while the Fur - through their leader El-Nur - tend to dominate the political leadership of the movement, the International Crisis Group noted in a 6 October report.

Minnawi, who spends much more time in the field, seems to have more support among the rebel commanders. Nur, on the other hand, had not been in Darfur for over a year, and observers claim he returned for the first time last week because he feared losing his position on the ground.

The factionalism within the rebel movement put the African Union (AU), the mediators of the peace talks in Abuja, in a difficult position. It is unclear how the AU will accommodate the dual SLM/A leadership in the next round of talks.

The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 when the two main rebel groups, the SLM/A and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), 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.

According to the UN, the conflict has affected some 3.3 million people, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad.

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