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Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace

Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace

The Darfur conflict will continue until the main rebel groups mend internal divisions and present a unified front at the negotiating table.

Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the discord within and between the rebel Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), in light of the current African Union-sponsored peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. No marked progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution will be made unless the key figures in these rebel movements return to Darfur and organise broad-based conferences to resolve their leadership disputes, restore command and control and mandate their delegations with a negotiating position for Abuja.

"As long as the rebel opposition groups -- especially the SLA, the largest and militarily strongest -- remain fragmented, they are vulnerable to manipulation by the Sudanese government, Libya and Chad", says Suliman Baldo, Director of Crisis Group's Africa Program. "Khartoum will exploit their weaknesses at the negotiating table, and they will find themselves increasingly isolated".

Until recently fighting was declining between the government and the insurgents. In its place, however, deadly conflict has been growing between the rebel groups, which has raised questions about their legitimacy. Those clashes and rebel attacks on humanitarian convoys also give Khartoum the opportunity to buy the support of a small percentage of Darfurians with promises of compensation and tribal reconciliation. Most Darfurians do not trust the government, but the disarray of rebels who claim to represent them puts civilians in an increasingly desperate situation.

Despite their frustration, the UN, AU, U.S., EU and others should not make the mistake of choosing a false and temporary security over a comprehensive political solution, since that would leave untouched the root causes of a conflict that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions. They should coordinate better so rebel leaders cannot play them off against each other; press the SLA and JEM to resolve their internal problems; and support with logistics, food aid and security the conferences each needs to do so. They must also urge them to unify their negotiating positions. Without unification of the rebel movements, the crisis will go on indefinitely, and civilians will continue to pay the cost.

"A lasting political solution is still within reach, but the rebel movements have to show considerably more maturity and responsibility. If they continue their descent into banditry and warlordism, Darfur's tragedy will not end anytime soon", says Dave Mozersky, Crisis Group Senior Analyst.

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