By Estelle Shirbon
ABUJA – A factional rebel leader from Sudan’s Darfur region, under intense pressure to join a peace deal, has made a tentative overture to the Sudanese government that has prompted intensive talks to push for a breakthrough.
ed Mohammed al-Nur, leader of one faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), has rejected a peace settlement signed on May 5 by the government and by rival SLA factional leader Minni Arcua Minnawi to end three years of bloodshed.
Nur’s refusal to sign the deal, which was also rejected by a smaller rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), has raised fears it will not end the war. The accord was greeted with violent demonstrations in some Darfur refugee camps.
Nur said he had written to African Union (AU) mediator Salim Ahmed Salim asking to reopen discussions with Khartoum and pledging to sign the accord if a list of key demands were addressed in a separate document.
“We are ready to sign if there’s a supplementary document … We did this (the letter) because we want to avoid chaos in Darfur,” Nur told Reuters at a hotel in the Nigerian capital Abuja where the talks that led to the peace accord took place.
He said his key demands were for more compensation funds for Darfur from Khartoum, greater political representation for his group, and greater involvement in mechanisms to enforce a ceasefire and disarmament plan foreseen in the accord.
Nur is weak militarily but the international community is desperate for him to endorse the agreement because he is a member of the Fur tribe, Darfur’s largest. Minnawi has more fighters but he is from the smaller Zaghawa ethnic group.
Hostility between ethnic groups in Darfur has fuelled the conflict.
The SLA and the JEM rebelled in early 2003 accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglecting Darfur, a desert region the size of France in the west of Sudan.
Khartoum backed militias known as Janjaweed, drawn from Arab tribes, to crush the rebellion. Tens of thousands of people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes in the ensuing campaign of murder, rape, looting and arson.
Diplomats in Abuja said intense and sensitive discussions involving Nur, Minnawi, the government and AU mediators were going on and it was possible that these would result in Nur signing, but there was also a risk it could all fall apart.
“It’s all very delicate … If Abdel Wahed (Nur) and the government can agree on something to bring him on board that’s great, but it all has to involve Minni because they can’t rewrite a deal he’s already signed,” said one diplomat.
Nur and Minnawi loathe each other. Their fight for control of the SLA was one of the main problems during the Abuja peace talks, which dragged on for close to two years.
The AU considers May 15 a deadline for adding any new signatures to the peace settlement, as its Peace and Security Council meets that day and must afterwards formally present the document to its international guarantors.
Minnawi left Abuja early on Thursday for Chad, where he is expected to try to win support for the accord from President Idriss Deby, who is battling insurgents in a crisis that has become interlocked with the Darfur conflict.
Deby accuses Sudan of backing the Chadian rebels, a charge Khartoum denies. Meanwhile, the Darfur rebels from the Zaghawa tribe have rallied around Deby, who is also Zaghawa.
However, there have been tensions between Minnawi and Deby and observers fear that the Chadian president could act as a spoiler for the Darfur peace deal unless he is pacified. — Reuter