By Opheera McDoom
- Suleiman A. Adam
GENEINA, Sudan, Sept 26 (Reuters) - A senior Sudanese official charged on Sunday that a rebel group with which Khartoum is negotiating to bring peace to the troubled Darfur region was linked to an alleged coup plot uncovered last week.
Suleiman Abdullah Adam, the Khartoum-appointed governor of West Darfur state, told reporters that the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was the military wing of an opposition political party authorities have blamed for the plot.
Sudanese officials said last week they had foiled a planned coup in Khartoum by the Popular Congress party, which they said was meant to take place during Friday prayers. The party is led by Islamist politician Hassan al-Turabi.
Authorities said on Saturday they had found a huge arms cache with which the conspirators planned to kidnap and kill 38 government officials and destroy strategic targets in Khartoum.
Adam, speaking in the West Darfur capital Geneina, said the JEM was part of the conspiracy. The JEM is one of the two main Darfur groups and the links between its leadership and Turabi are well known.
Khartoum officials have been negotiating with the JEM and the Sudan Liberation Movement over Darfur, the western region where the United Nations says fighting has claimed 50,000 lives. The talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja broke down on Sept. 17 but are due to resume next month.
Adam said: "They (the conspirators) were moving large amounts of arms around the capital and some elements of the (Popular Congress) party admitted this and we arrested them and they confessed that they wanted to do this on Friday.
"The JEM are the military wing of the Popular Congress and, as the military wing of the Popular Congress in Darfur, they try to escalate the situation."
Turabi, a former ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was arrested and his party suspended in April after similar allegations about a conspiracy to attack strategic targets in Khartoum.
A senior military official said then that the JEM and Turabi’s party had jointly funded the plot, recruiting military officers from Darfur to carry it out.
Adam said: "They want foreign intervention, JEM especially and the Popular Congress. They are the ones who try to escalate the situation in Sudan ... They do not believe in peace and try to overthrow this government."
In a speech on Saturday night, Bashir said the activities of Turabi’s party were sponsored by "Zionists and freemasons".
"Such activities are not good for the country or for the religion. We want to say here that we are ready," Bashir added. He was quoted by Sudanese television, monitored by the BBC.
The Islamist link with the Darfur rebellion adds to the complexities of the conflict, which has displaced more than 1.2 million from their homes in the past 18 months.
Sudanese officials dispute the common interpretation of the conflict as one between Arab nomads backed by the government and marginalised African farmers.
Ghazi Suleiman, a prominent non-partisan political figure, told Reuters last week that Sudanese Islamists were using Darfur as a battleground in a struggle for power in Khartoum.
"Turabi is the mastermind of the existing conflict in Darfur. If he is released and if the government tries to come to an agreement with him he will stop what is going on in Darfur in a week," he said, adding that JEM leaders are Turabi’s proteges.
Adam spoke to reporters before talks in Geneina with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who is touring Sudan and neighbouring Chad.
In Chad on Friday, Lubbers said Sudan would have to give Darfur autonomy to end the conflict. Adam said West Darfur and Sudan’s other states already enjoy some autonomy and he hoped they would have more.