Cablegate: Darfur Rebel Update

DE RUEHKH #1829/01 3571445
O 221445Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Darfur's rebels remain fundamentally divided
according to what their leaders told poloff during a December 14-18
visit to Ndjamena, Chad. The rebel leaders claim that JEM, while
rich in vehicles and equipment, lacks fighters and the popular
support of the people of Darfur. Almost all contacts stated that
SLA/Unity presents a formidable military force, but suffers from
internal political division. Rebel leaders also discussed the
quickly-changing loyalties and defections between the movements, the
relationship between JEM and the Government of Chad, the lagging
peace process, and the visit of Abdul Wahid's field commanders to
Paris. JEM's Foreign Secretary asserted that JEM would soon tackle
by itself the problems of car jacking and banditry in Darfur.
Overall, rebel leaders appear to focus more energy and attention on
undermining rival movements and leaders (particularly the Justice
and Equality Movement) than preparing for negotiations, working
towards unity, or presenting their grievances against the Government
of Sudan. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) From December 14-18, TDY poloff met the following Darfur
rebel movements, civil society leaders, and political
representatives in Ndjamena, Chad:

- Justice and Equality Movement: Foreign Secretary Bushara Suliman
- SLA/Unity: Zubier Muktar Salim, Musa Ahmat Omar, Abdallah Yehia
(conversation via satellite phone)
- SLA/Field Command: Adam Ali Shogar
- Revolutionary Democratic Forces Front: Omar Hassan Mohammed,
Salah Mohammed Abdrahman (a.k.a. Abu Surra) (phone conversation)
- JEM/Collective Leadership - Omar Bakhit Abaker

- "The Neutral and Independent Committee:" Kamal Eldin Ibrahim
- Umma Party Representative: Toufiq Ali
- Ahlem Friga-Noy, Political Officer, French Embassy, Ndjamena

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
3. (SBU) Almost all contacts said JEM's military strength is
exaggerated. (Comment: We recognize the biased and self-interested
opinions of these non-JEM rebel leaders. End Comment.) JEM does
have the most vehicles and sophisticated equipment, thanks to the
Government of Chad, but it lacks the troops necessary to operate
such equipment, stated these sources. Omar Bakhit, a former JEM
member until 2007 (and now a deputy to Bahr Abu Gharda in the
JEM/Collective Leadership) told poloff that Khalil Ibrahim's JEM has
just over 50 vehicles, 350 soldiers, "and more money than it knows
what to do with." Due to this lack of troops, Bakhit added JEM
focuses its recruitment efforts in the internally- displaced persons
camps in eastern Chad. Other contacts, such as SLA/Unity's Salim,
said that the majority of JEM's fighters are actually Chadians, many
of whom are formally affiliated with the GoC's security and
military. (NOTE: Rumors continue to circulate about an impending
JEM attack on the Sudanese capital or elsewhere in the country.
Sudanese Armed Forces conducted air and land exercises throughout
Khartoum during the weekend of December 19-20. One member of the
AU/UN's Joint Mediation Support Team also reported that GOS
officials told Joint Special Representative Adada that JEM had
allegedly crossed the border with 300 vehicles. END NOTE.)

4. (SBU) Ibrahim, a self-described "unaffiliated Darfuri exile
trying to unite the rebels," said that JEM is second to SLA/Unity in
terms of military strength. JEM has the next highest number of
vehicles, though it is weak in terms of soldiers and popular
support. When discussing JEM's apparent strength, SLA/Unity
contacts such as Zubier Salim, reiterated that relative strength
among the Darfuri rebels can quickly change. For example, according
to Salim, in 2003 JEM had only 3 cars while Unity had more than 60.
SLA/Field Command's Adam Ali Shogar separately agreed stating,
"rather than view rebel movements in terms of their current
strength, you need to evaluate the rebel movements by their presence
in Darfur, their popular support, and their dependence on others."
(Note: Shogar is one of the most experienced rebels. In 1992, he
and several other leaders tried to launch an anti-NIF rebel group
from Chadian territory. End Note)

6. (SBU) Almost all contacts criticized what they termed JEM's
hidden Islamic agenda, its alleged relationship with Popular
Congress Party (PCP) leader Hassan Al-Turabi, and JEM leaders'
former close relationship with the Sudanese Government. JEM/CL's

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Bakhit asserted that several PCP leaders (Ibrahim Al-Maz and Sadig
Maro) left their positions in the PCP and joined JEM following the
May 10 attack. SLA/Unity representatives also separately claimed
that JEM has a *secret* Islamic agenda, with Musa Ahmet Omar saying,
"Khalil Ibrahim will be worse than Bashir - you just wait and see."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
7. (SBU) All rebel leaders, including JEM's Foreign Secretary,
acknowledged SLM/Unity's military strength. JEM's Foreign
Secretary noted, "Unity is a real military power, if they are not
divided politically." Darfur activist Ibrahim believes that
SLM/Unity is the strongest rebel movement with between 1,000-3,000
men and over 100 vehicles. SLM/Unity representatives stated that
they have positions all over Darfur, but their largest camps are in
Shegag Karo, Furawiya, Muahjarriaya, and East Jebel Marra. Other
representatives stated that Unity, which formerly had a presence
only in North Darfur, is starting to move to the South (towards
Jebel Marra and Tabit) and to the East towards Yassine, Haskanita,
and Muhjarriya. SLM/Unity's Salim said that his movement has
approximately 65 vehicles. Forty of these "technicals" are
constantly moving to different SLA/Unity locations. The others are
based permanently around SLA/Unity locations in Furawiya, Shegag
Karo, Birmaza, and Helif. Abaker Kado remains the General Commander
of SLA/Unity, stated Salim.

8. (SBU) All contacts, including Unity representatives, also
acknowledged political difficulties within SLA/Unity. Unity's Salim
said that this division is often exaggerated, but then added there
is a power struggle between Suliman Jamous and Abdallah Yehia.
Salim described particular SLM/Unity commanders as being in
"Jamous's camp" or "Yehia's camp." According to Salim, Suliman
Jamous "changed" during his stay in the Kadugli hospital, and that
after all of the publicity received, he became more concerned about
taking on a leadership role in the movement. All Unity contacts
noted that SLA/Unity hopes to hold a party conference early in 2008.
The preparatory council for this conference has already been
established, according to these sources. The last time that
SLA/Unity had a large party conference was in January 2008. He
expected that the next conference will be held near Birmaza, in
North Darfur.

9. (SBU) SLM/Unity representatives, including Abdallah Yehia,
downplayed their relationship with Minni Minnawi and strongly
criticized him and SLM/MM as a whole. Darfur Activist Ibrahim also
separately agreed that Minnawi and SLA/Unity are not as close as
some people think. (Comment: This came as a surprise given
Minnawi's repeated claims as well as numerous reports of close
coordination and good relations with SLM/Unity. End Comment.)
Salim dismissed Minnawi as an irrelevant player in Darfur. He said
that Unity's commanders have distanced themselves from Minnawi since
they asked for his permission to stage a coordinated attack on
Darfur. Salim said that these Unity commanders hoped to stage an
attack on Darfur's cities by posing as SLM/MM ("as they can move
freely wherever they want,") but that Minnawi refused this proposal.
Salim said he is more interested in improving coordination with
SLM/Field Command's Adam Ali Shogar and SLM/AW's Suliman Marjan than
working with Minnawi.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
10. (SBU) All rebels (including JEM) told poloff that Chad's
support to JEM remains strong, though representatives from the
diplomatic community resident in Ndjamena cautioned that Deby may be
stepping away from JEM. SLA/Unity representative Omar said that JEM
continues to receive direct support from Chad. Many other rebels
all separately claimed that Khalil Ibrahim maintains a base and is
located in Njaras (phonetic), Eastern Chad, most of the time. JEM's
Foreign Secretary Bushara Suliman claimed the GOC's support for JEM
remains strong, as the GOC feels indebted to JEM for coming to its
aid during Chadian rebel attacks.

11. (SBU) French Political Officer Friga-Noy based in Ndjamena
believes that President Deby is intentionally backing away from JEM
as "we have entered a new period in JEM-GOC relations." According
to Friga-Noy, the Chadian Government allows rebels to operate
throughout Chad ("as many Zaghawa rebels crossed the border seeking
refuge with their Chadian brethren,") but that its direct support,
especially for JEM, has dramatically decreased over the last few
months. As evidence, Friga-Noy asserted that the number of JEM
representatives in Ndjamena has significantly decreased, and that
the appointment of former JEM point-person Dausa Deby, the
President's brother, as Ambassador of Libya signals a change in the
GoC's attitude to JEM. Friga-Noy dismissed JEM's claims of ongoing

KHARTOUM 00001829 003 OF 006

support from the GoC saying, "When JEM is in danger their
representatives often talk about how great their relationship is
with the GoC." (Note: On this point, SLA Unity's Omar claimed that
Dausa Deby's appointment as Ambassador of Libya will not
dramatically affect JEM's relationship with the GOC, because other
officials such as the Sultan of Timane, Abd Al Rahim Bahr, are more
involved in coordination with JEM. Umma Party Representative and
civil society leader Toufiq Ali also said that the government of
Chad is engaging in "political theater." According to him, Chad has
not significantly reduced its support of the rebel movements, but is
only being more discrete and quiet about its relationship with the
rebel movements. End Note)

12. (SBU) SLA/Unity's Salim said that the GoC's support for JEM
comes not only in military hardware, but also in recruitment for the
movement. In his view, President Deby has tried to bring other
rebels into the fold by offering money to prominent SLA/Unity leader
Suliman Jamous to join JEM - an offer Jamous rejected. As for
Unity's own relationship with Chad, Ibrahim said it was "weak."
URF's Bakhit was more direct, saying, "If Chad ends its support to
JEM, Khalil Ibrahim is done."

- - - - - - -
13. (SBU) JEM continues to engage with the peace process, while
SLA/Unity and the other smaller movements voiced skepticism and
pessimism about the Chief Mediator, Qatari involvement, and the
overall process. JEM's Foreign Secretary stated that JEM is working
closely with Bassole. In their most recent meetings with Bassole on
December 16, JEM urged the latter to talk to Chad and focus on
Chad-Sudan relations. According to Suliman, Deby is still
suspicious about Bassole, and believes he may have been co-opted by
the Sudanese Government. Suliman also said that JEM is working with
other rebel movements on drafting a "framework agreement between the
rebel movements prior to negotiations." (Note: SLA/Unity said that
discussions had not significantly progressed with JEM on this
document. URF Representative said that they had not been consulted
by JEM about this platform. End Note.) Suliman also confidently
asserted that in order for negotiations to succeed, only three rebel
movements are needed at the table: JEM, Abdul Wahid Al-Nur, and

14. (SBU) SLA/Unity's leader Abdallah Yehia told poloff via
satellite phone that press reports from December 16, announcing that
SLA/Unity had rejected peace negotiations in Qatar, were incorrect.
Yehia admitted that he was skeptical about the Qatari involvement,
and that Unity had not been in direct communication with the Qataris
and therefore could not make a decision on their involvement. Yehia
said that he assigned Unity's Sharif Harir (currently in Asmara,
reftel b) to lead the negotiations for his movement. Yehia said
that Unity demands that any negotiations must be separate from
discussions on postponing an ICC indictment, and that Unity believes
only "getting rid of this Islamic regime will bring peace to

15. (SBU) Despite being in semi-regular contact with the JMST
(namely Boubou Niang,) Yehia said that the relationship between the
Chief Mediator and the Qataris was unclear. Yehia stated that it is
regrettable that Bassole has not been able to meet him in the field.
Unity's Salim was more direct, saying that SLA/Unity has not been
adequately included in the peace process. According to this
representative, Chief Mediator Bassole has only conducted meetings
with senior Unity representatives over the phone - something that
"is not acceptable for SLA/Unity."

16. (SBU) Other rebel leaders from smaller movements such as
JEM/Collective Leadership and SLA/Field Command were even more
critical of the peace process. "If only JEM and Abdul Wahid sign an
agreement, that will never solve the problems of Darfur," said Omar
Bakhit. Abu Surra, the leader of one of the largest Arab rebel
movements, said that the peace process must include disaffected
Arabs, and threatened, "if you want to see a real rebellion, wait
and see the Arab reaction if they cut another deal with just the
Zaghawa or the Fur."

17. (SBU) Darfur activist and Umma party representative Toufiq Ali
commented that he believes the Justice and Equality movement is
trying to prevent other more legitimate movements from taking the
lead in peace negotiations. Ali claimed that JEM is significantly
weaker following the Omdurman attack, and therefore ready to cut a
deal with the GoS.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
18. (SBU) All rebel representatives described frequent defections,

KHARTOUM 00001829 004 OF 006

shifting alliances, and an overall chaotic, fractured, and dynamic
rebel landscape. For example, multiple representatives from
differing movements claimed the loyalty of prominent field
commanders, and debated whether the United Resistance Front actually
still exists. Almost all contacts said that both Sudanese
newspapers and written statements on rebel websites and dissident
bulletin boards cannot be trusted, and often publish misinformation
to distort the image of the rebels and create confusion.

19. (SBU) All rebels did agree, however, that Adam Bakhit of SLA
Field Command did defect from the United Resistance Front (URF) to
SLM/Minni Minnawi. Adam Ali Shogar was very critical of his former
SLA/Field Command partner, saying that that it has been over two
years since Adam Bakhit has been in the field. (Note: When a
member of URF, Adam Bakhit was its e Chief Commander and Shogar
was the General Secretary. End Note.) According to Shogar, Bakhit
left with only three cars and a handful of men, while his own forces
control the remaining 30 vehicles. JEM/CL's Bakhit says that the
URF lives on after Bakhit's departure, as Abdallah Banda has assumed
responsibility as URF's chief military commander.

20. (SBU) SLA/Unity representatives (including Abdallah Yehia)
denied that SLA/Unity commanders Sadiq Baro and Salah Jerbo had
defected to JEM (as previously claimed by JEM's Bushara Suliman and
as published in a written statement in (Note:
Jerbo is widely rumored to be under investigation from the
International Criminal Court. End Note.) With respect to Jerbo,
Omar stated, "We did not kick him out of the movement, but if the
ICC calls for him, we will immediately turn him over to the court."
Yehia also denied expelling Osman Bushra from Unity, and said that
the press release attributed to him on Sudanese Online was part of
the Government's misinformation campaign. SLM/FC's Shogar claimed
that Salah Jerbo is actually independent of all movements, and
believes that Unity adopts many different autonomous commanders
without securing their loyalty or commanding their actions.

21. (SBU) All movements except for JEM/CL claimed that the URF had
completely disbanded (reftel C). JEM/CL's Bakhit, however, insisted
that URF lives on in four groups led by the following individuals:
1) Khamis Abdallah (currently in Nairobi from the Masalit tribe) and
his field commander Haidir Gola Koma. 2) Sharif Adam Nasr from the
former NMRD. 3) Ibrahim Zubeidi from the Arab dominated URFF 4)
Bahr Abu Gharda of JEM Collective Leadership. Bakhit said that Bahr
is currently East of Muhajarriya and claimed that URF has a strong
presence in Jebel Marra, Graida, Yassine, Muhajarriya, and Haskaina.
Upon hearing Bakhit's claims of URF's strength, Darfur activist and
head of the "Neutral Committee" Ibrahim commented, "URF is done.
Bahar Abu Gharda is just dreaming that the URF exists and sees it as
the only way to prove himself." Shogar separately agreed, and said
that he only entered URF on a trial basis. Ibrahim added that Abu
Gharda has less than ten cars, and that Abu Gharda now focuses his
efforts on "poaching" members of rival movements such as Mansour
Irbab, the General Secretary of Khamis Abdallah. Of the former URF
members, Ibrahim speculated that Khamis Abdallah is the strongest,
while Adam Ali Shogar has a small, though respectable force.
(Note: Shogar claimed that he controls the area between Birmaza and
Omr Rahik in particular an area called Omraras south of Muzbet. He
said that in September, he took six cars from the Government of
Sudan, a significant addition to his force. Despite his claims,
Shogar admitted that it is difficult to sustain his movement, and
added that he is envious of JEM's continued support from the GOC.
End Note.)

- - - - - - - - - - -
22. (SBU) Almost all rebel representatives except for JEM
requested assistance from the U.S. in helping unite Darfur's rebel
movements. According to Shogar, Khalil Ibrahim, Bahr Abu Gharda,
and Jibril Tek need to come to a common understanding and reunite
the Justice and Equality Movement, while SLA/Field Command, Unity,
Abdul Shafie, Abdul Wahid, Minni Minnawi, and Khamis Abdallah should
focus on unification efforts among the former SLA. Unification will
require outside help. This is such a big project that "no single
leader today will be able to unite the movements by himself."
Shogar predicted that there will be no progress in Darfur without
unification of the movements. JEM/CL's Bakhit separately requested
US support for unification efforts among the rebel movements. He
said that although uniting with his former JEM colleagues might be
impossible, JEM/CL and URF could easily unite with Abdul Wahid and

23. (SBU) Kamal Eldin Ibrahim of "The Neutral and Independent
Committee" believes that his organization presents the only hope for
unification of Darfur's rebels. Started in December 2007, the
organization seeks to remain impartial to any group, while working

KHARTOUM 00001829 005 OF 006

for the "unity of the revolutionary movements." (Note: Materials
from the "Neutral and Independent Committee" are available from Post
on request. End Note.) According to Ibrahim, if the following
individuals agree to work towards unification, the rebel movements
can become united again and overthrow the Sudanese Government: 1)
Khalil Ibrahim (JEM) 2) Bahr Abu Gharda (JEM/Collective
Leadership) 3) Sharif Harir (SLA/Unity) 4) Adam Ali Shogar
(SLA/Field Command) 5) Suliman Jamous (SLA/Unity) 6) Abdallah
Yehia (SLA/Unity) 7) Adam Bahkit (SLM/MM).

24. (SBU) Even before unification, Ibrahim believes that military
coordination, based on geographic alliances, can lead to rebel
unification. He said that his committee has established
coordinators for each region of Darfur. The following individuals
are in contact with all rebel movements and will coordinate their
regional efforts when attacked by the GoS: 1) Suliman Marjan (Helif
/ Midob) 2) Salah Mohammad (Berti areas) 3) Jar Al-Nabi
(Hashaba, North of Kas) 4) Muhammad Terrada (Jebel Marra)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
25. (SBU) French political officer in Ndjamena, Friga Noy stated
that France discretely facilitated the travel of three senior field
commanders for Abdul Wahid Al-Nur. Abaker Kenso, Salah Al-Din Tur,
and Muhammad Nimr to Paris during the week of December 14. The
commanders first traveled to Ndjamena and then were flown to Paris.
She said that the field commanders are more interested in
participating in negotiations than Abdul Wahid, and that the French
see this as a way of putting pressure on him.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
26. (SBU) According to JEM's Foreign Secretary, Bushara Suliman,
JEM will soon start targeting the perpetrators of car jackings and
banditry in Darfur. Suliman emphasized that this phenomenon damages
the image of the rebels, prevents the delivery of humanitarian aid
to the region, and empowers the Government. Suliman accused former
JEM military commander, Jibril Tek, as one of the main "criminals"
responsible for banditry along the Chad-Sudan border. (Note:
Jibril Abdel Karim Bahri 'Tek', a Zaghawa Kabka from Chad, was one
of JEM's military leaders until his dismissal in February 2004.
After his dismissal he went on to found the NMRD. End Note.) SLA
Unity's Omar separately claimed that "as a movement" SLM/Unity has
not been involved in car jacking, and that SLM/Unity helped the UN
retrieve approximately 40 stolen vehicles.

- - - -
27. (SBU) The fragmentation of the rebel groups and animosity
among them is troubling. Even though some of the rebel leaders
mentioned above are of marginal importance at the moment (e.g.
former URF,) they could undermine the peace process. They also
could continue to make Darfur a chaotic and violent region, even if
there is progress in peace negotiations with the larger groups.
Almost all contacts seem to agree that SLA/Unity carries significant
military force, while admitting its political problems and
personality conflicts among n Jamous, Harir, and Yehia. In our
view, SLM/Unity should receive more attention from the Chief
Mediator; Bassole would benefit from meeting individually with
Jamous, Harir, and Yehia. Perhaps the common theme drawn from all
of the meetings was the need for UNAMID to be better informed. The
lack of good intelligence on rebel movements, their positions, and
their relative strengths makes it possible for rebel leaders to make
unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims. To date, UNAMID has not
definitively mapped rebel positions, leaving this an open area for
debate among the movements.

28. (SBU) Former AU/UN mediators Salim and Eliasson spent much of
2007 focusing on unification efforts that ultimately proved
unrealistic. Nevertheless, there still exists the possibility of
unifying some SLA factions. That said, such unification is a long
term project, and one that we would recommend not be a top priority
for the Chief Mediator. As long as diverse personalities, vested
interests, and ethnic differences dominate Darfur's rebel groups,
the latter will remain divided, and Darfur's long-sought-after peace
will remain elusive.

29. (SBU) The focus of the Chief Mediator, UNAMID, and the
international community in early 2009 should be on defining
unilateral security commitments that the GOS can take within the
framework of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism. According to UNAMID,
the majority of offensive military actions in Darfur during 2009
were taken by the GOS, though some in the context of (allegedly)
routing out bandits; reducing or eliminating these actions would
dramatically reduce the amount of violence in Darfur. Meanwhile the

KHARTOUM 00001829 006 OF 006

Chief Mediator, UNAMID, and the international community can continue
to urge rebels to sign onto a security framework and more clearly
define their political demands. If the GOS commits to unilateral
security steps and lives up to them during 2009, cutting off support
to rebels from Chad and Libya (and to a lesser extent from Eritrea)
while offering a reasonable deal for them to sign onto when ready
may be the only realistic approach to winding down the conflict over


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