Darfur rebel group JEM splits again ahead of talks

Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has split again, a spokesman said on Monday, ahead of a United Nations and African Union (AU) meeting to unite the insurgents before peace talks with the Sudanese government.Nourein Adam Abdel Gaffa, spokesman for JEM’s armed wing, said the group was removing Khalil Ibrahim from his leadership position and wanted members of JEM’s army to represent the group at the rebel meeting in Tanzania beginning on August 3.

“We are announcing the removal of Khalil Ibrahim as the leader of the movement,” he said.

Abdel Gaffa said Ibrahim had breached the laws governing JEM but did not offer details.

However, Abdel Gaffa is allied with JEM chief of staff Abdallah Abanda Abakr who Ibrahim removed from his position earlier this month, a move Abakr and other commanders rejected.

JEM spokesman Ahmed Adam told Reuters from London that Ibrahim had not been removed and would represent JEM in the Arusha talks in August.

“This is not true. Still Khalil is the chairman of JEM,” he said, adding that JEM was trying to resolve any outstanding problems, including confusion over Abakr’s role.

The split announced by JEM’s armed wing is a blow to the August 3-5 Arusha meeting ahead of peace talks planned by UN Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim.

One of the biggest obstacles to restarting Darfur peace talks to end the fighting is rebel divisions.

Since a peace deal last year signed by only one of three rebel negotiating factions, the non-signatory factions split into more than a dozen groups.

JEM, which along with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), was involved in the 2006 Nigeria talks that produced the peace agreement, is often considered a smaller rebel group.

Sudan expert Eric Reeves said, although JEM had few troops on the ground, they could act as a spoiler to any peace agreement if not represented at the talks.

Abdel Gaffa said on Monday his group was “not committed to any ceasefire agreement”.

US envoy Andrew Natsios told reporters in New York that Salim and Eliasson hoped to begin Darfur peace talks in September, although the envoys themselves have been careful not to set a start date.

“By the end of August Jan Eliasson said, and Salim Salim, that they will issue invitations to a formal conference that they expect will begin in September,” Natsios said.

He added that broader society in Darfur needed to be included in the talks process to ensure whatever is agreed receives support on the ground.

Last year’s unpopular peace deal is rejected by the 2.5 million Darfuris who fled their homes to camps in Darfur and in neighbouring Chad. The AU, which mediated the deal, was criticised for not publicising it quickly enough.

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