Home | News    Wednesday 16 April 2008

US envoy holds rare direct talks with Darfur rebel JEM

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April 15, 2008 (PARIS) — The US efforts to boost efforts in the war ravaged region of Darfur took an unprecedented turn Tuesday with a senior official holding a rare meeting with a rebel movement in France.

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US special envoy for Sudan Richard Williamson is seen in Khartoum in February 2008 (AFP)

The US special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson met with a high level delegation from Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to discuss the resumption of peace talks and cessation of hostilities in Darfur.

JEM spokesperson Ahmed Hussein told Sudan Tribune from Paris that the meeting was supposed to include Khalil Ibrahim leader of JEM but said that “logistical difficulties due to his presence in Darfur” prevented him from attending.

However Hussein disclosed that that Williamson had phone conversation with Ibrahim earlier today and that the latter will meet with the US envoy “very soon” to discuss ways of “bringing about a comprehensive and sustainable peace in Darfur”.

The meeting is the first of its kind since the US administration imposed sanctions on Ibrahim for his role and accused him of “activity aimed at further destabilizing the situation on the ground [in Darfur]”.

Last year a US state department official speaking to Sudan Tribune said that “Ibrahim’s agenda is that of Hassan Turabi, the head of the Popular Congress Party and an ex-ally of President Al-Bashir”.

The official elaborated by saying that it is clear to the US administration that Ibrahim is focused on Khartoum and not on the crisis of his people in Darfur.

The JEM delegation in the talks with the US envoy was headed by Dr. Mahmoud Abakar Tinawi, the vice chairperson of the general congress; Dr El-Tahir Adam El-Faki, the Chairman of JEM Legislative Council and Ahmed Hussein who is JEM spokesperson and in charge of relations with Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The delegation also included Ahmed Tugud Lisan, JEM political secretariat and chief negotiator; Dr. Abdullahi Osman El-Tom, in charge of JEM Bureau for Training and Strategic Planning; Jibreel Ibrahim, economic adviser and Sadiq Hassan head of JEM office in France.

The JEM spokesperson said that the US official “emphasized Bush’s desire to help Sudanese parties reach a peaceful settlement and ending the plight of Darfurian people”.

“He told us that the US is looking for ways to achieve peace in Darfur before the end of Bush’s second term and the pivotal role JEM could play” Hussein said.

The Darfur rebel group underscored to Williamson the need for the full deployment of UN-AU hybrid force (UNAMID) for a “constructive environment”. The US official raised the need for cessation of hostilities “in the coming period”.

JEM is thought to have the largest military rebel force in Darfur and has gained extra prominence in recent months through a series of clashes with government forces. But other groups, chief among the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by founder Abdel-Wahid Al-Nur, have huge support among Darfur’s displaced populations.

But Hussein said that the JEM delegation told Williamson that the movement “is not just a military power but managed to transform itself in many parts of Darfur and that many people look at them for hope”.

“We thanked the US and President Bush for helping the people of Darfur and his devotion to the problems facing Sudan” he added.

JEM expressed their willingness to negotiate “immediately” saying that peace “is a strategic objective”.

However the delegation told the US envoy that there needs to be a mediation change and called for a sole mediator to replace the U.N.’s Darfur envoy, Jan Eliasson, and his African Union counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim.

The rebel group also expressed to Williamson their “skepticism of Khartoum’s seriousness in pursuing peace as an alternative to a military solution” and that any future negotiations should address the “root causes of the conflict”.

Williamson met with SLM leader Al-Nur on Monday and is will fly to Rome for a meeting with a Sudanese government delegation on Wednesday.

The Sudanese delegation will be headed by presidential adviser Nafi Ali Nafi, foreign minister Deng Alor and Salah Gosh, the head of National Security and Intelligence Service. Sudan official news agency (SUNA) said the talks will tackle normalization of bilateral relations and that it will last till Saturday with a possibility of extension depending on the progress.

International experts estimate some 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes in the five years of revolt in Darfur, which borders Chad.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the central government of neglect. But rebel divisions and the government’s mobilization of mostly Arab tribal militia have created a mix of armed groups and a breakdown of law and order.

Washington calls the violence genocide, a term European governments are reluctant to use and Khartoum rejects.

(ST)

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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