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Cablegate: Unamid Force Commander Engages with Sla-Unityunamid Unable

VZCZCXRO2191
PP RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0358 0710745
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110745Z MAR 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0165
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 000358

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, S/CRS
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UN US SU
SUBJECT: UNAMID FORCE COMMANDER ENGAGES WITH SLA-UNITYUNAMID UNABLE
TO STOP FIGHTING IN WEST DARFUR BUT WILLING TO TRY TO SUPPORT
HUMANITARIAN EFFORT

1. (SBU) As part of his ongoing efforts to engage with all Darfur
Peace Agreement (DPA) non-signatory factions, AU-UN Hybrid Operation
in Darfur (UNAMID) Force Commander Martin Luther Agwai traveled
March 9 to Al Hosh (N 15 degrees 02'21.9", E 024 degrees 47'56.1"),
North Darfur to hold introductory discussions with members of Sudan
Liberation Army-Unity. The Force Commander's (FC) principal
objectives were to open dialogue with the rebel group, seek their
assurances of cooperation with the humanitarian community, explain
UNAMID's mandate and gain SLA-Unity's views on efforts to unite
Darfur's numerous splintered armed groups.

2. (SBU) The Force Commander described UNAMID's mission (and
provided an Arabic copy of the UNAMID mandate), the challenging
political environment in Darfur, and the international community's
urgent desire to help resolve the conflict. For their part
SLA-Unity - represented by Special Coordinator Abdul Rahman Banat
and council member Adam Idriss - expressed appreciation for the FC's
visit and welcomed the opportunity to maintain open channels of
communication. The rebel group recounted the African Union Mission
in Sudan's (AMIS) many missteps and queried the FC on the
anticipated nature of the relationship between UNAMID and the
non-signatory movements. Agwai underscored UNAMID's more robust
mandate and his vision that any peace agreement - and a ceasefire
tatprecedes it - must be all-inclusive. SLA-Unity echoed the
importance of a comprehensive ceasefire, pledged to study the
peacekeepers' mandate (which they had not seen previously) and, at
the next meeting, provide feedback.

3. (SBU) Responding selectively to a number of Force Commander
Agwai's queries, Banat affirmed that SLA-Unity would continue to
facilitate humanitarian access and protect non-governmental
organizations operating in the group's area of control. He
deferred any response on the possibility of positioning UNAMID
forces in terrain controlled by SLA-Unity, offering that the
question must be put to his "higher political authorities."
(Comment: Asked subsequently by FieldOff regarding the whereabouts
of his political leadership, Banat claimed that both Suleiman Jamous
and Sharif Harir were currently in Brussels, though for what reason
or for how long remains unclear. European Union contacts could not
confirm that either of the SLA-Unity political leaders is, in fact,
in Brussels. End Comment.)

4. (SBU) On the status of rebel unification efforts, SLA-Unity
Special Coordinator Banat only remarked that discussions "are
ongoing intensively, though there is still no conclusion." He
cautioned UNAMID and the international community to not exacerbate
the problem of rebel splintering by recognizing and giving
legitimacy to "every armed group with a Thuraya," which was one of
the reasons that political negotiations last year in Libya failed,
he held. Unlike other groups without military strength, Banat
asserted, SLA-Unity is a force to be contended with and one that
must be represented on any holistic ceasefire commission (CFC).
(Note: Approximately 60 SLA-Unity fighters, armed mostly with AK-47s
and transported by four light machine gun-mounted Landcruisers were
visible in the vicinity of the meeting. End Note.) To this end,
Banat urged UNAMID and the international community to press the
Government of Sudan to commit to a cessation of hostilities and
allow non-signatories to sit on a ceasefire monitoring mechanism.

5. (SBU) Comment: The visit to SLA-Unity's stronghold in North
Darfur was of greater symbolic than substantive value. SLA-Unity
Special Coordinator Banat did not appear to be particularly well
informed or capable of articulating his group's military or
political objectives, thus limiting the discussion to superficial
rhetoric. That they were unaware - or unwilling to disclose - the
status of rebel unification efforts, pointed to this particular
group's lack of sophistication and organization, which remains one
of the impediments in building a viable peace process. Asked
specifically by FieldOff about relations with the Justice and
Equality Movement (JEM), Banat only grimaced and shook his head.
Pressed to give greater clarity on the group's constituency, the
rebel coordinator claimed that SLA-Unity was "broad based and
included all tribal affiliations," but declined to provide any
further details - highlighting yet another challenge in the
political track: weak or non-existent linkages between many of the
rebel factions and ordinary Darfurians. In subsequent conversations
with FieldOff, FC Agwai acknowledged that the trip was only useful
in the message it sent regarding UNAMID's willingness to engage all
groups, and that he would seek to engage movements more at the
senior field commander/political level where both sides might be
able to take authoritative steps toward concrete objectives, such as
a written commitment to ensure humanitarian protection or,
eventually, a cessation of hostilities.

FERNANDEZ

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