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Darfur rebels renounce their leader at peace talks

Written by: Staff

KHARTOUM, March 6 (Reuters) Leaders from the main Darfur rebel group today renounced their party president, saying he was acting unilaterally and endangering fragile peace talks.

The rebel split is likely to stall African Union-sponsored peace talks, just as other rebel divisions have helped derail six previous rounds of talks. Infighting has destabilised security in Darfur, where rape, killing and looting has forced 2 million people from their homes to miserable camps.

''Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur is determined to go it alone to consolidate his dictatorship and marginalise all the institutions of the movements in his drive to carry out his narrow-minded personal agenda,'' said a statement signed by 19 senior Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) officials.

The head of the African Union mission in Sudan, Baba Gana Kingibe, said the group was powerful and had put the brakes on the AU-mediated talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

''It has already had an effect,'' he told Reuters today. ''It has jolted the talks, it's put some brakes on it.'' Tens of thousands have been killed by the widespread violence in Darfur, which began three years ago by mostly non-Arab rebels who accused Khartoum of neglect. Washington accuses Khartoum and its allied militias of genocide in Darfur, a charge the government rejects.

The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the region.

The SLA statement froze Nur's leadership and appointed his deputy Khamis Abdallah Abakr as transitional head until a congress is held within three months to elect a new leader.

Previous splits between the two main rebel groups negotiating in Abuja created renegade groups who renounced a shaky ceasefire signed two years ago and continued attacks on government bases and African Union peace monitors deployed in the remote west of Sudan.

REBELS SPLIT Abakr's group said they would honour all agreements already signed and continue the AU-mediated negotiations. They said Nur had unilaterally ended a joint position adopted by the groups which had inspired hope this round would yield a much-anticipated peace deal.

''We have taken this step when it became clear and beyond reasonable doubt that our cause was in jeopardy, and that the current leadership had become too weak to lead us safely out of danger,'' said the statement received by Reuters today.

An SLA congress held in Darfur last year split the movement and elected a new president, Minni Arcua Minnawi. But AU mediators and the top UN envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, continued to recognise an increasingly isolated Nur as president.

Since then Minnawi has spent more time in Darfur and in neighbouring Chad than at the talks trying to consolidate his position on the ground and signing alliances with other groups.

But Kingibe said he felt eventually the rebels would overcome their differences to reach an accord.

''At the end of the day the rebels, whatever their divisions are, they cannot be greater than their divisions with the government,'' he said, adding all factions wanted an agreement.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha is to travel to the talks to raise the stakes and expedite a deal, state-owned press reported yesterday.

Taha was one of the architects of a separate peace deal in 2005 which ended Sudan's southern civil war. That deal did not cover Darfur or a simmering rebellion in the east.


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