KHARTOUM, 22 February 2004 — Two rebel groups from the west of Sudan said yesterday they would not attend a conference in the capital proposed by the Sudanese government that aims to end a year-old conflict in the arid and remote Darfur region.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir has proposed a conference in Khartoum for all Darfur leaders, including the rebels, to be chaired by Chadian President Idriss Deby in the coming days. The government has offered rebels safe passage.
“We will not participate in this conference nor do we recognize it,” Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), told Reuters.
“The only people who will be going are the government people and those who are afraid of the government and so this will be just government members talking to each other,” he said.
JEM is one of two main rebel groups which took up arms against the government in February last year accusing Khartoum of marginalizing the vast region next to Chad and of arming nomadic Arab militias to loot and burn African villages.
A spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the other main rebel group, also said his group would not attend.
“It is not a forum that we could attend ...He (Bashir) could come and talk to us directly in the Marra mountains,” the SLA’s Ahmed Abdelshafi Yagoub said.
He said that the international community should monitor talks. He also said the government should halt attacks in the region and allow aid to reach the needy.
Bashir said earlier this month that the government had full control of the situation in Darfur, a claim disputed by the rebels who say their offensives are continuing.
The government has also said aid agencies had full access to the area, but aid workers have said they still face difficulties distributing supplies.
UN officials have estimated up to one million people have been displaced by the conflict in Darfur so far, with more than 100,000 refugees in neighboring Chad. The government has disputes the figures.
The Sudanese government is in separate talks with a southern-based rebel group aimed at ending a 20-year-old civil war in the south of Africa’s largest country.