Darfur rebel factions reunite under one banner

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JUBA, Sudan, Nov 13 (Reuters) Six breakaway factions from one of Darfur's biggest rebel groups and two other insurgent forces said today they had united under one banner, in a rare but tentative show of unity in the troubled region.

Representatives from the groups meeting in South Sudan's capital Juba said they had signed a Charter of Unification, bringing together splinter factions of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and other fighters.

Observers gave the move a cautious welcome, but pointed out most of Darfur's leading rebel names were missing from the new body, chief among them SLA founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur and representatives from the powerful SLA-Unity faction.

''We are significant groups that are coming together,'' said Al-Hadi Adabeldour, spokesman of the United Revolutionary Forces Front, a group he said was made up of mainly Arab fighters.

''When all of Darfur's rebel groups are united with one voice we can negotiate with the government for peace. If they refuse to talk to us, we can fight.'' Representatives of the new group -- including one claiming to be a faction of the powerful Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) -- told Reuters they had agreed to merge their military and political structures into a single chain of command.

They said the group included SLA factions led by influential commanders Jar el-Neby and Ahmed Abdel Shafie.

Darfur rebel groups started meeting in Juba in October, originally to prepare the ground for peace talks with Sudan's government in the Libyan city of Sirte.

The Libyan talks quickly fell into disarray after leading rebels boycotted the proceedings, saying the negotiations were badly prepared and taking offence at comments from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that Darfur's conflict boiled down to a fight over a camel.

Most rebel groups have continued to meet in Juba to try and hammer out a common position.

The organisers of the Juba sessions hailed the new unification charter, but warned there was still a lot of work left to do.

Priscilla Joseph Kuch from The Darfur Taskforce, set up by semi-autonomous south Sudan's leading political party, described the document as the ''beginning'' of the unification process.

She said: ''No one (in the re-formed SLM) is discussing leadership yet. They are discussing vision and structure.'' An international analyst monitoring the Juba talks who spoke on condition of anonymity said the new SLA would have much more authority if members could at least persuade the leader of SLA-Unity Abdallah Yahia to join.

Yahia earlier told Reuters he was calling his Juba delegates back into the field to discuss their position. Other SLA-Unity members are said to be unhappy that many of the groups around the Juba negotiating table have few fighters in the field.

International experts estimate 200,000 have died in the Darfur conflict and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in 4-1/2 years of fighting.

The splintering of Darfur rebel's groups accelerated after only one faction of the SLA signed a failed peace deal with Khartoum in 2006.

Reuters SBC VP0020

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