SUDAN: A who’s who of the Darfur groups in Sirte

Friday, November 2, 2007

The two armed rebel groups active in Darfur when the region erupted into major conflict in 2003 – the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) –  have since splintered into a bewildering array of often warring factions.

Darfur means "home of the Fur" - the largest African-descended community in the region. The second biggest ethnic group is the Masalit, followed by the Zaghawa. The other major community consists of Arab tribes, known as Darfuris of Arab descent.

One major split took place in November 2005, when SLM military leader Minni Minnawi, an ethnic Zaghawa, broke with political leader Abdul Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, an ethnic Fur. In 2006, Minnawi’s faction was the only armed group to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement. He subsequently took up an advisory post with the government in Khartoum.

There are now at least a dozen, and perhaps as many as 16, armed groups with origins in either JEM or SLM.

Mediators of the current peace process face major difficulties due to the proliferation of groups and their disunity. Key players did not attend the opening of the talks in Sirte, Libya, including Minnawi and Abdul Wahid.

The groups at the Sirte talks included:

The Justice and Equality Movement-Azraq (JEM-Azraq) - led by Mohamed Idriss Azraq. This faction broke away from the original SLM (see below), which was led by Khalil Ibrahim. It is also known as the Darfur Liberation Movement.

The delegation in Sirte was led by Ibrahim Abdallah. The group represents Darfuris of African descent and calls for "self-determination".

The Justice and Equality Movement-Collective Leadership (JEM-Collective Leadership) - led by Bahar Idriss Aboard, who did not come to Sirte. It represents Darfuris of African descent. Tadjedin Niam has spoken at the talks on the group’s behalf.

The National Movement for Reformation and Development (NMRD) - led by Jibril Abdel Karim, a Zaghawa, but represented in Sirte by Khalil Abdullah. The group broke away from JEM in 2004.

The Revolutionary Democratic Forces Front (RDFF) - led by Salaa Abdurahman Abussra, who attended the Sirte talks. The group represents Arab communities. Abussra says his group has been in existence for "many" years but only took on the RDFF name in 2006.

Regarding the Janjawid militia (see below), Abussra said his group has been absorbing some of these men to weaken the government's strength in the region. He claimed the government had been using the Janjawid to fight its opponents.

The Revolutionary United Movement (RUM) aka URFF - led by Alhadi Agabeldour, who was the head of its delegation. The group represents Arab communities.

RDFF and RUM had previously been regarded as pro-government but have been at the talks as resistance movements.

The Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA) - led by Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige, who was also the delegation’s leader. Unlike most others, this group is not a breakaway faction of either JEM or SLA. Diraige, according to Sudanese sources, is somebody to watch in the absence of Abdul Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, who boycotted the talks and enjoys grassroots support. The group represents Darfuris of African descent.

The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) - led by Khamis Abdallah Abakar and headed at Sirte by Mohammed Ali Nasser, who is the group's deputy for political affairs. The group represents Darfuris of African descent.

The Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity (SLM-Unity) - led by Abdallah Yahya. Initially part of the Group of 19 under the original SLM, Adam Bakhiet led the group in Sirte. It represents Darfuris of African descent.

Among those absent from the initial Sirte talks were:

A Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) faction led by Khalil Ibrahim, who is a member of the Zaghawa. JEM has shunned the Sirte talks to protest the presence of resistance movements it alleges have no influence or presence on the ground in Darfur.

Factions of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) led by:

- Abdul Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, who comes from the Fur community and is widely regarded as the most popular of the rebel leaders in Darfur. He has been in Paris and has refused to join the peace process until the UN/African Union Hybrid Mission (UNAMID) deploys in Darfur.

- Ahmed Abdel Shafi, who later wrote to the AU-UN mediation team seeking participation. Shafi is a member of the Fur ethnic group and split from Wahid's SLA/M. He attended the Juba talks that were aimed at unifying and reconciling the movements ahead of the Sirte talks. Sudanese sources said he was still in Juba and the mediation team would meet him in Darfur to bring the group into the process.

The Sudan Liberation Army/Movement-Unity (SLA/M-Unity) - an alliance of several leaders of resistance movements, only one SLM-Unity faction has been attending the Sirte talks (see above).

The Janjawid – Musa Hilal, has publicly associated himself with the Janjawid, and is sometimes seen as its leader. Widely accused of committing atrocities in Darfur, the pro-government militia has fought alongside Sudanese government forces against the Darfur rebels since the conflict began. Reports of inter-Arab conflict however suggest that a single Arab militia under central command is unlikely.

Source: IRIN