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Sudan Tribune

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How credible is Darfur’s third rebel movement?

NDJAMENA, Jan 13, 2005 (IRIN) — A third rebel movement has appeared in
Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, but nobody seems to be taking it very
seriously, apart from the authorities in Khartoum and the government of
neighbouring Chad.

A_rebel_of_the_MJE.jpgRecent weeks have seen a flurry of negotiations between this newcomer, the
National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD) and Sudanese
government envoys in the Chadian capital N’Djamena and the border town of
Tine.

In contrast to the slow-moving peace negotiations with the two main rebel
groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and
Equality Movement (JEM) in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Khartoum’s talks
with the NMRD in Chad appear to have made rapid progress.

The two sides agreed a ceasefire on 17 December and on 3 January they
struck a deal to promote the return of refugees from Chad to areas which
the NMRD claims to control.

However, UN refugee officials in eastern Chad told IRIN they had seen no
evidence of fugitives from Darfur trekking back across the border, despite
images purporting to show such returns broadcast by Sudanese state
television and affirmations by Chadian officials that some Sudanese
refugees have gone home.

“In the camps there have been no massive refugee returns, as reported by
the press, and the refugees are sceptical of any return given the security
situation prevailing in the Sudan,” Claire Bourgeois, the head of the UN
refugee agency UNHCR in the eastern town of Abeche, told IRIN.

Bourgeois said that on the contrary, new arrivals were continuing to
trickle into the semi-desert of eastern Chad to join the 200,000 who have
sought sanctuary there already.

Many of the new arrivals had fled to the mountains following fighting
inside Darfur, but were now crossing the border to camps near Iriba and
Bahai because they had run out of food, she added.

Both these Chadian towns are near Tine, the border settlement where the
NMRD signed a deal that was supposed to lead to refugees returning
voluntarily to Darfur.

Another UNHCR official in eastern Chad, Lino Bordin, said some refugees
had been making brief trips across the border to benefit from money and
assistance packages offered by the Sudanese authorities to returning
refugees. But once they had grabbed their cash and food parcels they
hurried back into Chad, he added

“All refugees questioned by the UN say they do not want to go back,”
Bordin told IRIN. He stressed that UNHCR had no plans to repatriate any of
them in the short term.

The NMRD claims to be a breakaway movement from JEM.

NMRD leader Nourene Manawi Bartcham, told an IRIN correspondent in
N’Djamena at the end of December that his group broke away from JEM in
April last year because it disagreed with the influence of Hassan Al
Tourabi, an Islamic fundamentalist politician, over the rebel movement.

Tourabi helped Sudan’s current military head of state, Omar Hassan Al
Bashir, seize power in a 1989 coup and subsequently became an influential
figure in his administration. However, the two men fell out 10 years later
and Tourabi went into opposition.

Bartcham claimed that the NMRD had an important presence on the ground
throughout Darfur, an arid territory the size of France. He said the
movement controlled territory near the main border crossing at El Geneina.

“We have men and weapons and the capacity to be a real nuisance,” he told
IRIN.

But Bartcham added: “We want peace and that is why we have accepted
President Deby’s invitation to come to N’djamena to sign the ceasefire
agreement.”

Ahmad Allami, an adviser of Chadian President Idriss Deby who has acted as
a mediator in several rounds of peace talks with all three rebel movements
in Darfur, said the NMRD were a force to be taken seriously.

He estimated that the movement had about 1,000 fighters on the ground.

“Contrary to what has been said, the NMRD do represent something in Darfur
as they managed to prompt a number of Sudanese refugees to return to
Sudan,” Allami told IRIN.

A western diplomat based in N’Djamena also cautioned that the breakaway
rebel movement should not be dismissed too lightly. “Our indications are
that the NMRD should not be under-estimated since a sizeable part of JEM’s
military capacity appears to be under their control,” he told IRIN.

But as far as JEM itself is concerned, the NMRD is just a stooge of the
authorities in Khartoum.

“This group belongs to the Sudanese government.It is very strange that the
government negotiates with itself,” said Mohamed Ahmed Tugod, a JEM
negotiator at the currently suspended peace talks in Abuja.

The conflict in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when rebels in the
territory, which was traditionally a key recruiting ground for the army,
took up arms against the government.

Since then, the United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of people
have been killed in fighting or have died from hunger and disease.

Nearly a third of the territory’s six million inhabitants have been forced
to leave their homes, mainly as a result of raids on black African
villages by Arab nomads grouped in the pro-government Janjawid militia
movement.

The United Nations estimates that 1.65 million are internally displaced. A
further 200,000 have fled to Chad.

Briefing the UN Security Council on Tuesday this week, Jan Pronk, the
United Nations special envoy to Sudan, made no reference to the NMRD as a
player in the Darfur conflict.

But he warned that security situation was still bad, the humanitarian
situation was poor and the region was still in a political stalemate.

Pronk accused the rival factions in Darfur of rearming and pointed to a
recent increase in banditry and looting. He also drew attention to the
recent spread of armed conflict to the neighbouring province of Khordofan.

And the UN envoy was dismissive of all agreements signed so far to bring
an end to the fighting.

“Talks between the parties on Darfur have not yielded concrete results or
much narrowing of the gap on the issues concerned,” Pronk said. “Despite
regular statements to the contrary, the parties have yet to commit in
practice to the implementation of the humanitarian ceasefire (agreed in
April 2004).”

However, hinting at the need to include other groups besides the SLA and
JEM in the political dialogue, Pronk said: “It would be useful to start
thinking of including tribal leaders in finding political solutions even
before reconciliation has taken place. That may include tribes that so far
were beyond control by the government or by the rebel movements and were
fighting to protect their own interests.”

Could that perhaps point to a role for the NMRD in the overall negotiating
process?

Allami, the Chadian mediator, also advised that the peacebrokers in Darfur
should cast their net wider.

“We should involve all the political and military forces in a definitive
and global settlement of the crisis in Darfur,” he told IRIN.

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