Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace
Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Special Episode: Sudan at War
Special Episode: Sudan at War
Briefing / Africa 2 minutes

Unifying Darfur's Rebels: A Prerequisite for Peace

Insecurity in Darfur remains pervasive despite a decline in direct, large-scale fighting between the government and the two main rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

I. Overview

Insecurity in Darfur remains pervasive despite a decline in direct, large-scale fighting between the government and the two main rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Maintaining the present uneasy status quo is not the answer. The Khartoum government continues to flout its numerous commitments to neutralise its allied proxy militia, the Janjaweed, and more than two million civilians displaced by the conflict will not return home without a comprehensive political settlement including security guarantees. But the problem is not just on the government side: discord within and between the rebel movements also needs to be resolved if there is to be a chance for lasting peace.

The SLA, the dominant rebel force on the ground, is increasingly an obstacle to peace. Internal divisions, particularly among its political leadership, attacks against humanitarian convoys, and armed clashes with JEM have undermined the peace talks and raised questions about its legitimacy. JEM, while less important militarily and suspect among many Darfurians for its more national and Islamist agenda, has similar problems.

As long as the rebels, the SLA in particular, remain divided and the fighting in Darfur continues, there is little hope for real success at the African Union (AU)-sponsored peace talks in Abuja, since the government is likely to exploit and exacerbate rebel weaknesses at the table. SLA and JEM fragmentation may contribute to a limited settlement in which the government regains a semblance of authority in Darfur through local deals with tribal leaders and insurgent factions, while the rebel movements find themselves increasingly isolated and irrelevant. Frustrated as it is, the international community would, nevertheless, make a mistake if it chose an appearance of stability over a comprehensive solution since that would leave the root causes of the conflict untouched, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements.

A lasting political solution is still within reach but the AU, Sudan's neighbours, the UN, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) need to press for four steps to resolve rebel disunity:

  • the political leaderships of the SLA, especially, but also the JEM should return to Darfur as soon as possible and organise broad-based conferences of their memberships;
     
  • the SLA conference must be inclusive in representation and participation (including women) and provide a forum for the rebels to solve their leadership problems, forge a consensus on the movement's structure, restore command and control and end banditry, and define a negotiating position for its delegation at the Abuja peace talks;
     
  • the SLA and JEM must continue their efforts in Abuja to unify their negotiating positions, both to facilitate the political talks and to help solidify the ceasefire agreement between the two movements; and
     
  • the international community must better coordinate messages to prevent the rebel movements and factions from playing external actors against each other and should support the conferences of the two movements by helping with transport, food aid and security.

Nairobi/Brussels, 6 October 2005

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.