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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Darfur rebels beset by problems
By Jonah Fisher
BBC, Khartoum

SLA troops
SLA forces are dividing along tribal lines
The Sudan Liberation Army begin their unity congress in crisis.

Once seen as fighting for the rights of brutalised people, Darfur's biggest rebel movement have become part of the problem.

International observers have watched in despair as the SLA has looted humanitarian convoys, split into two factions and obstructed peace talks.

Formed in early 2002 the SLA consists primarily of Darfur's farming tribes - the Zaghawa, Fur and Massaleit.

The rebels complain that central government in Khartoum has refused to invest in Darfur in the far west and want a fair share of national wealth. Tensions with nomadic Arab tribes over natural resources helped fuel the insurgency as the agriculturalists looked for people to defend their land.

Weapons were seized from government police stations as the rebellion gained momentum in early 2003.

Fighting

Khartoum's response made the world sit up and take notice. Arab militia - the so called Janjaweed - were armed and given free rein to quell the insurgency.

The SLA has been paralysed by divisions among its leaders
The agricultural communities who housed and fed the rebels were ruthlessly targeted.

Tens of thousands of Darfuris were killed, hundreds of villages burnt and over two million people fled into overcrowded camps.

As the world demanded something be done to end the fighting the SLA suddenly found themselves at peace talks with the Khartoum government in Nigeria.

But just two and half years after its formation the rebels were naive and unprepared.

New to international diplomacy and unsure of their objectives the SLA leadership floundered. The September 2004 round of talks failed and violence continued on the ground.

In the year that has followed five more rounds of negotiations have taken place and each in turn has failed to deliver a solution.

The Sudanese government has done little to restrain Arab militia but the SLA has been paralysed by divisions among its leaders; Abdul Wahid, the chairman of the movement, and the secretary general Minni Minnawi .

Rift

Ideologically there is little difference between the men. Both say they want an end to Darfur's marginalisation and a democratic Sudan that respects human rights.

Jem rebels
The other rebels group, Jem, are also divided
The clash is one of personalities with a tribal edge - Abdul Wahid is a Fur and Minnawi a Zaghawa.

As the rebels' military chief Minnawi enjoys greater support among SLA commanders in Darfur.

Abdul Wahid as chairman is still treated as political leader by the international community.

Both men left Darfur in 2004 and attempted to direct operations from different hotels in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Commanders in Darfur were forced to choose between the two men - a decision usually made along tribal lines.

With the leadership now distant and confused - rebel discipline began to slip and banditry and attacks on humanitarian convoys increased.

Peace talks in Nigeria - which should have addressed fundamental issues of power and wealth sharing have instead been dominated by wrangling over who should represent the SLA.

No substantive discussions took place at the sixth round of negotiations which ended in Abuja on the 20 October. For three weeks the SLA argued among themselves over the make up of their delegation.

Abdul Wahid had changed the SLA's list of negotiators from the previous round to exclude Minnawi and his faction. The official SLA delegation now just consisted of Abdul Wahid's supporters - even his personal bodyguard was included.

The SLA congress in South Darfur is expected to attract hundreds of field commanders, internally displaced people and even a few overseas supporters.

Its aim is to elect a new leadership and decide what the rebels want to achieve at future rounds of talks. The stakes are high.

Any choice between Abdul Wahid or Minni Minnawi could finally split the movement in two - further complicating Darfur's chaos. If both remain - future problems seem inevitable.

Other splits

The SLA are the biggest but they are not the only rebel group in Darfur.

The Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) are also represented at talks in Nigeria.

They are not without their own problems. The political Jem leadership appear to has lost the confidence of their forces on the ground.

Two splinter groups of ex-Jem commanders are demanding that they now be granted seats at the next round of negotiations.




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