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EXCLUSIVE: JEM Leader says he has arrived in Darfur

September 11, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The leader of Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim, told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that he has returned to Darfur.

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FILE - Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the JEM, gestures during a meeting with General Martin Luther Agwai, force commander of the African Union Mission in the Sudan Oct 17, 2007

Speaking from a satellite phone, Ibrahim told Sudan Tribune "I have arrived safely in Darfur and I am with my forces".

The rebel leader has been stuck in Libya since mid-2010 after Chadian authorities refused him entry.

Chad has been a hub for JEM fighters and political officers through which they used to access their bases inside Darfur. However, a thaw in relations between Sudan and its western neighbor created the unexpected situation for JEM.

The Libyan government agreed to receive the rebel leader despite pleas by Khartoum to expel him.

Following the unrest that broke out in Libya earlier this year, JEM expressed concern over the safety of its leader particularly as NATO started a bombing campaign throughout Libya to enforce a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mandated no-fly zone.

To make matters worst, the Sudanese government claimed that Darfur rebels were fighting alongside the forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi thus alienating JEM from the Libyan opposition.

The activities and movements of Ibrahim were already restricted by Libyan authorities but his exact whereabouts were unknown.

The JEM chief said his troops secured the trip through the Sub-Saharan desert and supplied him with water and food.

“We were in race with the Sudanese intelligence who were seeking to catch us in Libya”, he said.

He hailed the three revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya saying: "We congratulate the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for the success of their revolutions. JEM has always been with the choice of the people”.

The rebel leader also sent a positive message towards Chad saying that JEM is keen on having good relations with Ndjamena because they "supported the Darfur people during the difficult year of war and hosted them”.

He further said that the Chadian president Idriss Deby can play a "crucial role" to reach a just and lasting peace in Darfur emphasising: "We are ready to cooperate with him".

This week Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that Chad mobilised troops and jet fighters to support Sudan in its war against JEM rebels after reports that they successfully infiltrated into Darfur from Libya.

Ibrahim also welcomed the independence of South Sudan and said he was disposed to cooperate with the South Sudan government in the interest of the two peoples of Sudan in the North and the South.

He also urged the unity of the opposition forces saying it was crucial to achieve political change in Sudan.