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Cablegate: Surge in Rebel Activity in Darfur

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKH #0896/01 1681157
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 161157Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1067

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 000896

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, AF/SPG, S/CRS, SE WILLIAMSON, AF/C, NSC for
BPITTMAN AND CHUDSON
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPKO UNSC AU CD SU
SUBJECT: SURGE IN REBEL ACTIVITY IN DARFUR

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Daily Government of Sudan helicopter gunship
overflights of El Fasher, rebel movements from Tine to Tawilla, and
a sharp increase in banditry - particularly against international
non-governmental organizations, all highlight a recent increase in
rebel activity in Darfur. Such activity can be traditionally
attributed to the advent of the rainy season, but with the Justice
and Equality Movement's pledge to repeat an attack on Khartoum, no
scenario should be discounted. The United Nations-African Union
Mission in Darfur remains largely impotent as a result of
engineering and equipment deficits, and the expected departure of
PAE by July 14 will only further delay the Mission's response time.
Post urges that we use all fora at our disposal to reiterate a
message of restraint to all parties and to make positive movement
toward appointing a mediator to get the peace process re-started.
END SUMMARY.

JEM IN NORTH DARFUR AND THE GOS KNOWS IT
----------------------------------------
2. (SBU) On June 13 and 14, Government of Sudan (GoS) helicopter
gunships (three to four are typically parked at the El Fasher
Airport on any given day) were flying low over El Fasher beginning
at approximately 0830. Later on June 14 a Justice and Equality
Movement (JEM) Field Commander called FieldOff to report that he,
along with other JEM members, were ten kilometers outside Kutum,
approximately 70 km northwest of El Fasher, North Darfur, to pick up
vehicles. He noted that he had moved several days earlier from
Tine, West Darfur, on the northern part of the border between Sudan
and Chad, through Jebel Marra, where representatives of several
armed movements in Darfur have been convening over the past days.
The JEM commander acknowledged that the GoS gunships had been
dispatched at news that JEM was in the region. In response to
FieldOff's questions about a possible rebel move on El Fasher, given
JEM's relative proximity to the North Darfur capital, the commander
said there was nothing to worry about.

3. (SBU) The JEM commander inquired about the recent fighting near
Um Kadada in North Darfur (reftel) between Sudan Liberation
Army/Unity and the Sudan Armed Forces. He had nothing to add on
casualty figures beyond agreeing with the assessment that each side
would try to trump the other in the media on this point, per usual
practice in such clashes. A Joint Mediation Support Team (JMST)
officer noted that rumors of JEM-SLA/Unity collaboration were rife
(which would unite the two largest Zaghawa rebel groups) and JEM has
not ruled out the possibility of joining forces with other Darfur
rebel factions, at one point telling FieldOff during the week of
June 9 that there had already been many military defections from SLA
groups to JEM's ranks and that all were welcome except "the bandit"
Abdalla Banda, commander of JEM/Collective Leadership.

4. Presidential Assistant Minni Minawi also called CDA Fernandez
from North Darfur on June 14. Minawi complained of Sudanese
Government harassment (a government he is still a part of) and
ambush attempts as he passed near Kutum around June 11. Minni is
concerned that more of his wavering commanders may defect to
SLA/Unity or JEM.

5. (SBU) On June 15 the same JEM commander called FieldOff to say he
had moved and was now in Tawilla, approximately 60 km west of El
Fasher. He warned against any travel to this area of North Darfur,
as "forces are moving everywhere" [NOTE: A member of the JMST had
contacted FieldOff the evening of June 14 to discuss the possibility
of a visit to this area of North Darfur during the week of June 15.
END NOTE]. The JEM commander said he and his entourage would on
June 16 return to Tine, where JEM political leadership was currently
stationed. The commander confirmed reports of the movement of
Chadian rebels from West Darfur to Chad during the latter part of
the week of June 9, a movement which precipitated the rebel
offensive in Goz Beida, eastern Chad, on June 14.

"WHAT IS UNAMID DOING?"
-----------------------
6. (SBU) The JEM Field Commander asked what UNAMID was doing to
address the ceasefire violations and to re-start the Darfur peace
process, given its perceived bias in favor of the GoS. FieldOff
responded that as long as ceasefire violations continued on all
sides, including by the armed movements, UNAMID's role would likely
remain limited. FieldOff also informed of JMST's planned visits
around Darfur during the week of June 16 (the team is currently in
El Geneina), and the JEM commander reiterated his plea that the JMST
and UNAMID stay in touch with all sides, not just the GoS, to
maintain the perception of impartiality.

7. (SBU) FieldOff informed UNAMID Force Commander GEN Agwai of JEM's
movements in North Darfur and complaints with regard to UNAMID's
lack of a response. GEN Agwai did not see a proactive role for
UNAMID in enforcing the ceasefire agreement, saying, "If two sides
want to fight, what can UNAMID do? Pick one side and join in the
fight against the other?" GEN Agwai said he was never adverse to
talking to any of the armed movements and dismissed charges that
UNAMID was talking only to the GoS. He saw rebel consolidation as
the only way forward for peace talks and expected movement in this
realm within the coming weeks.

PRE-RAINY SEASON BANDITRY SPIKES IN DARFUR
------------------------------------------
8. (SBU) Along with heightened tensions between the GoS and the
rebel movements is a sharp increase in the number of incidents of
car-jackings and banditry throughout Darfur. Attacks in El Fasher,
for example, occur on a daily basis and are brazen, usually
conducted at midday, often at residential compounds, and are more
often than not aimed exclusively at the INGO community. FieldOff
warned the JEM field commander to refrain from such attacks given
his comments that he and his colleagues were "picking up" vehicles
in North Darfur [NOTE: JEM has historically been a repeat offender
in INGO car-jackings, on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.
Vehicles are either converted to rebel use or sold on the black
market in Chad. END NOTE].

9. (SBU) COMMENT. These reports point to a recent increase in rebel
activity in Darfur and may portend a "surge" toward a renewed rebel
offensive. It is not out of the ordinary for rebels and government
forces alike to scramble for positions and assets in the run-up to
the rainy season, often at the expense of the INGO community. This
pretext aside, other conditions make it a favorable time to make a
move, not least a UNAMID that is distracted by deployment and
contracting obstacles (it has still not named a replacement for PAE,
and it just unilaterally terminated its catering contract through
PAE, which means troops will be without food as of July 14). The
international community needs to step in and use all tools/fora at
its disposal to reiterate a message of restraint to all parties.
Embassy Khartoum is doing so with both the GOS and UNAMID officials.
It also needs to make positive movement toward appointing a
mediator to get the all too lackadaisical UN/AU led peace process
re-started, especially if rumors of a rebel consolidation on the
ground prove true. Such a consolidation, while bad news for the
Khartoum regime, could lead to even more suffering and displacement
for Darfur's civilian population.

FERNANDEZ

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