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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 September 2007, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Darfur rebel head warns of split
Jem rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim
Jem's leader warns if peace talks fail, his rebels want independence

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Darfur

The Justice and Equality movement (Jem) is one of the main rebel groups in Darfur.

Its leader, Khalil Ibrahim, told me that if next month's peace talks fail, the rebels want a country of their own. That's a new demand.

"The next step is Darfur will ask not only for self-determination," he said, "but clearly we want separation. We want our own country.

"If there is no solution, no peace, then why we live together. This is very clear message. If we are not equal, we cannot stay in one country."

Speaking in the rebel stronghold of Haskanita, surrounded by heavily armed fighters, the Jem leader said he believed the Sudanese government was at a critical point and looking for a way out of the conflict - but at minimum cost.

He said there could be no peace without self-rule for the people of Darfur, adding that the government would have to share Sudan's wealth, rebuild destroyed villages and compensate the displaced.

Jem has been fighting hard against the government and it has been fighting back, bombing Haskanita twice in recent days.

Rebels are keen to show the craters left by the government bombing and the crude metal littering the ground.

"This is one product of a factory in Khartoum," a Jem commander said, clutching shards of metal, "and this product is for killing the people of Darfur".

What chance peace?

The latest attack on Haskanita has been condemned as "brutal" by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There are fears that more fighting here could derail the planned peace talks, before they even start.

Even if the talks go ahead, the Darfur rebels may not be speaking with one voice when they get to Libya.

Justice and Equality Movement rebels in Darfur
The AU fears Darfur's rebels could pose problems for peacekeepers

There were about a dozen rebel groups at last count, all trying to call the shots.

One United Nations official said "it feels like there's a new rebel movement every morning when I wake up".

Some in the African Union mission believe the rebels will be the key problem for the new peacekeeping troops when they begin arriving here next month.

The AU has had almost 200 rebels on the payroll, employed as 'military observers', some getting as much as $4,000 a month.

A senior AU military official admits paying the rebels was a mistake.

He says they may have used some of the money to buy weapons, which could be turned against foreign troops.

The payments have been reduced in recent months, but since then the rebels have 'gone on strike' refusing to ensure safe passage for AU patrols in areas they control.

That has left the AU observers confined to base in some areas.

The payouts will stop completely when the peacekeepers come in, increasing the disgruntlement in rebel ranks.

General Martin Luther Agwai in Darfur
General Agwai has Africa's toughest job as Darfur commander

The official expects the fighters to be an obstruction and says they can instigate trouble.

Members of one faction of one rebel group stole 13 AU vehicles in July, and returned four - destroyed.

The official is worried about possible attacks on the peacekeepers if there's no breakthrough at peace talks.

He believes the rebels are capable of anything.

"They have no respect for their own leadership," he says. "Nothing is beyond them."

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