Sudanese rebels in Darfur have formed an alliance with other armed groups to overthrow the government in the capital, Khartoum, in a move that links separate conflicts in the North African nation and undermines ongoing <peace efforts in Darfur.
The new Sudan Revolutionary Front includes the Justice and Equality Movement and two factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army in Darfur, the western province where a conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced close to 3 million since 2003.
Earlier this month, the Darfur rebels, who have rejected a peace accord with the Sudanese government, joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which is active in Sudan’s southeastern states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “establishment of a new military alliance,” while the State Department has warned against “unrealistic demands or incendiary rhetoric that risk permanently immobilizing the peace process” in Darfur.
The leader of the only Darfur rebel group to sign a peace agreement with the Sudanese government accused the rebel alliance of undermining efforts to end the conflict.
Tijani el-Sissi of the Liberation and Justice Movement said the front is making a “grave mistake” by linking the conflict in Darfur with those in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, where Sudanese forces have for months attacked rebel groups.
“The conflict is in Darfur. The mandate is about Darfur, and the mediation should focus on resolving the conflict in Darfur,” Mr. el-Sissi told The Washington Times on a visit to Washington last week.
Leaders of the new rebel alliance were unavailable for comment.
The violence in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan has escalated tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, which the government in Khartoum accuses of aiding the rebels.
U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough raised U.S. concerns about violence in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan on a visit to Khartoum and South Sudan’s capital Juba earlier this week.
In their meetings in Juba, they emphasized “the need to respect the sovereignty of Sudan, including by ending support for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
<t-6>The Liberation and Justice Movement and the Sudanese government signed the peace accord in the Qatari capital of Doha in July. Mr. el-Sissi was sworn in as president of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority in October.
Mr. el-Sissi said the international community, including the United States, must “urgently press” the Darfur rebels to sign the Doha peace deal.
Black African rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab government in Khartoum, which they accused of racial discrimination.
The government retaliated in a crackdown that many observers have described as a genocide.
The U.N. says as many as 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur. He has denied the charges.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, which closely monitors developments in Sudan, said the rebel alliance is focused on a national peace process instead of just one for Darfur.
“War is a distant second option, behind a comprehensive peace deal,” he said. “The focus must be on a comprehensive deal, as the regions fighting the center have similar agendas for change.”
In a letter to President Obama this week, a group of 62 U.S. lawmakers, including the four co-chairmen of the Congressional Sudan Caucus, described the administration’s Sudan policy as flawed. They said the current approach of addressing Sudan’s conflicts through “individual mediation processes - effectively stove-piping each conflict - is not working.”
The lawmakers recommended bringing all parties together in one process.
Mr. el-Sissi was in Washington last week to participate in a two-day meeting with Darfuri rebel leaders that sought to bridge the gap between the groups.[NOTE]Following the meeting, the State Department called on the Sudanese government to be “open and flexible to negotiations with the armed movements.”
Emad Altohamy, the top Sudanese diplomat in Washington, said his government has never refused to negotiate with any rebel factions.
“The government’s position has been clear and consistent from the outset. It welcomes any parties interested in genuinely pursuing peace,” he said.
He was confident that the peace process will be a success in part because it is supported by the United Nations, the United States and the international community.
But Mr. Prendergast said the deal signed in Doha was “dead on arrival.”
“Very few Darfuris support the Doha agreement. It has no legs. The effort was misguided,” he said.
Mr. el-Sissi, who recently spent a week in Darfur after being away for 21 years, disagreed. He said Darfuris are hungry for peace.
“All you hear in Darfur is ‘peace, peace, peace,’” he said.
The State Department said the United States remains “deeply concerned” about the situation in Darfur, where it noted that serious humanitarian and human rights crises continue to unfold.
The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act requires the U.S. president to certify improvement in the situation in Darfur before Sudan is taken off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration extended sanctions on Sudan, saying it had not seen sufficient improvement in Darfur.
Mr. el-Sissi said the Obama administration must lift the sanctions, which he said are hurting the Sudanese people instead of their government.
He also disputed an assertion by the State Department that aerial bombardments were ongoing in Darfur and described such statements as “irritating.”