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Holdout Darfur rebels form new alliance

June 30, 2006 (ASMARA) — Three Darfur rebel groups that have refused to sign up to an African Union-mediated peace deal for the troubled western Sudanese region formed a new alliance to fight Khartoum on Friday.

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An armed member of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nur walks in Tina, north Darfur province of Sudan, May 16, 2006. (Reuters)

Officials from the groups created the National Redemption Front (NRF) after talks in the Eritrean capital and reaffirmed their opposition to the Abuja peace agreement, signed by only one rebel army and Khartoum in May.

The front is made up of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a holdout faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA), according to a "founding declaration" released in Asmara.

"We, leaders of political and military organisations abstaining from signing the Abuja document ... reaffirm our rejection of that faulty process," they said in a statement.

"Realising the virtues of combining efforts and resources to end the suffering of our people, we hereby join hands in establishing the National Redemption Front (NRF), as an instrument for coordinating political, military, diplomatic and media initiatives," they said.

The declaration was signed by JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim, Khamis Abdalla Abakar of the dissident SLM faction and Sharif Harir and Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige from the SFDA, all of whom said the peace deal did not go far enough.

Ibrahim said after the creation of the new group that it would accept as members any other movement that opposed the Abuja agreement and the policies of the Sudanese government in general.

"This front is open to all other movements who do not accept the Abuja document," he said. "This front will not only deal with the Darfur issue but all the issues in Sudan."

There has been strong pressure on holdout groups to accept the AU-mediated Darfur peace agreement that aims to end three years of war in Darfur that have killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced 2.4 million others.

The pan-African body has threatened sanctions on groups that do not sign the accord which was inked by Khartoum and the largest SLM faction in the Nigerian capital on May 5.

Friday’s declaration of the new front came on the eve of a summit of AU leaders in Gambia who are expected to renew calls for Sudan to accept the transfer of the bloc’s Darfur peacekeeping mission to the United Nations.

Decades of tribal fighting in Darfur erupted into all-out violence in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms, accusing the Arab government in Khartoum of neglect and calling for autonomy.