Darfur rebel threatens to quit peace accord

EL FASHER (AP) — The only rebel leader to have endorsed the Darfur Peace Agreement threatened to pull out of the deal geared at ending three years of war if the international community does not move to support him fast.

Minni Minnawi, who heads the Sudan Liberation Movement, was the only one of three rebellion leaders to sign the peace deal last month with the Sudanese government.

“The responsibility for the peace cannot remain on my sole shoulders,” Minnawi said in an Associated Press interview late Friday. He warned that the peace agreement could “collapse soon” if the international community failed to send a United Nations peacekeeping force to this remote region of western Sudan.

“If I don’t see support from the international community, I will return to the bush and the fighting will continue,” Minnawi said. He declined to specify when this could occur.

He accused the government of neighbouring Chad of supporting the Darfur rebel groups that refused the peace deal and attack his troops since.

“The [Sudanese] government, all the embassies in Khartoum, have evidence that Chad is sending funds, equipment and troops to north Darfur, it is unacceptable,” Minnawi said.

More than 180,000 people have died and over 2.5 million been displaced in the Darfur conflict, which broke out in 2003 between rebel groups and pro-government forces and has been described as the worst current humanitarian crisis.

The peace deal signed May 5 between Minnawi and Khartoum plans for a complete ceasefire between rebels and government forces — including a a pro-government militia of Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed that is blamed for most of the atrocities against ethnic African villagers.

Dissident SLM leader Abdelwahid Elnur — along with the Justice and Equality Movement, another guerrilla group — refused to sign accord, saying it did not fairly compensate refugees.

Elnur belongs to the Fur tribe, as do most of the refugees, and opposition to the peace agreement has lead to increased tension in the camps.

Many refugees call Minnawi — who belongs to another large tribe, the Zaghawas — a traitor. Aid workers say they are worried interethnic strife could occur in some refugee camps where people have begun to regroup along tribal lines.

Humanitarian and UN workers who operate in North Darfur say SLM factions loyal to Elnur are repeatedly breaching the ceasefire there and gaining significant ground on Minnawi’s troops.

A UN report earlier this week also said that the Minnawi faction apparently retaliated in an attack on rival SLM factions, the first large-scale offensive since the peace agreement.

Minnawi strongly denied this, stating that groups who broke the ceasefire did not belong to his movement. He said his troops only fought defensively. “We are soldiers, it is normal for us to defend ourselves if were are under attack,” Minnawi said.

The rebel leader blamed increased violence in North Darfur on the support his adversaries were getting from Chad, and possibly Khartoum. He said Chadian mercenaries and even regular troops were known to operate in the north of the region, but did not specify in what numbers.

Mazjoub Khalifa, the special adviser to the Sudanese president, who signed the Darfur peace agreement on behalf of the government, denied any meddling from Sudan in the rebel infighting.

“The government of Sudan has signed a peace agreement and will loyally support Minnawi in implementing it,” Khalifa told the AP of the telephone from Khartoum.

He said Khartoum was aware of possible Chadian incursions in Darfur. “We intend to make sure the border is closed, and have sent a very firm message to the Chadian government,” Khalifa said. He did not elaborate.

The UN security council voted last month to send a peacekeeping force into Darfur to replace an African Union mission that has proved largely unable to return stability to the area.

A joint assessment team of UN and AU officials is touring the region to see how the takeover could take place, and Security Council members have said the transition could occur in early 2007. But Khartoum has shown little enthusiasm.

Minnawi said UN troops should come soon, or the ongoing violence would make the peace agreement impossible to implement.

He said refugees hostile to the peace deal were being manipulated by Elnur’s faction, but that his movement would not be able to win them over to peace if the near daily killing, raping and looting of refugees continued.

Humanitarian workers say over 100,000 people have been cut off from international aid in North Darfur because of inter-rebel fighting.

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