February 18, 2009 – Darfur rebels in the Justice and Equality Movement clashed on Wednesday near the North Darfur capital with forces loyal to former rebel Minni Arcua Minawi, said JEM military spokesman, Ali Alwafi.
"In his last gamble to redeem its value to the Khartoum government, SLM-Minnawi branch launched its last battle against JEM at Thabit Water Centre near Al Fasher," stated Alwafi, referring to an area some 40 km (25 miles) from the capital of North Darfur.
Out of 30 armoured vehicles involved in the attacked, 27 were captured by JEM, said Alwafi, who also claimed that Minnawi lost his last forces in the attack.
Minnawi, who serves as Senior Presidential Assistant in the Sudanese government since signing the Abuja agreement in 2006, has slammed the ongoing peace talks in Doha. He is currently in Cairo, where Egyptian diplomats have been markedly cool toward the Qatari-mediated negotiations with JEM.
Additional fighting occurred Wednesday in northern Darfur in Jabal Wana area near El Fasher while government warplanes bombed areas in eastern Jebel Marra, claimed JEM commander Suleiman Sandal.
The clashes follow several days of fighting last week in which rebel forces under the command of SLA-Unity struck at Wada’ah, a town some 55 miles (90 km) farther to the southeast that has been held by Minnawi for the past few years. SLA-Unity destroyed over 23 soldiers and 21 military vehicles, while the rebels lost three fighters, according to a rebel communiqué issued last Wednesday by spokesman Mahgoub Hussein.
The attack, headed by SLA-Unity leader Abdallah Yehya, prompted a follow-up visit by UNAMID peacekeepers, who discovered that more than 2000 cattle were herded out of the area, while dozens of carcasses of livestock with gunshots were strewn on the outskirts of the town. UNAMID also viewed mounds of earth claimed to be recently-dug mass graves for 45 local people.
Minnawi’s forces were also attacked last month in Muhageria, a major South Darfur town seized by JEM. The recent fighting there was only the latest episode in a series of inter-factional clashes around the town, marked by defections from Minnawi, who lost twenty commanders to SLA-Unity in September 2007 and last December lost deputy commander in chief Bakheit Karima and chief of staff Arcu Suleiman Dohya, who allegedly joined JEM with 400 vehicles.
Previously, Minnawi aides have disclosed to Sudan Tribune that lack of financial support from the government prompted some defections.
The SLA-Minnawi attack today on Thabit was launched in alliance with Abdalla Banda, a former JEM army general who now leads a JEM splinter group. “Banda abandoned his armoured vehicle and is now on the run,” said Alwafi.
SLA-Minnawi is a signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006. JEM, SLA-Unity and the other major faction, SLA led by Abdel-Wahid Al-Nur, are not signatories to the Abuja agreement.