July 14, 2010 / 5:39 PM / 9 years ago

South Sudan president to contact Darfur rebels

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir will contact Darfur’s two main rebel leaders in an unusually high level attempt to persuade them to join the region’s troubled peace process, his party said on Wednesday.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir speaks during the 4th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ending more than two decades of civil war in the southern town of Malakal, January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Tim McKulka/UNMIS/Handout

Kiir will speak to Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leader Khalil Ibrahim and ask them to send delegations to the southern capital Juba, said a senior official.

Both insurgents, who were leading figures in the launch of the Darfur revolt in 2003, have already resisted pressure from a string of mediators and envoys to reach a final settlement with Sudan’s government.

A series of ceasefire agreements has failed to end the conflict in the remote western territory, with fighting between JEM and the Sudan government army reported as recently as Tuesday.

Kiir, who is also the first vice president of Sudan as a whole, had decided to take a personal role in resolving the conflict, said Yasir Arman, a senior official in Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

“The first vice president is the only person in the presidency who can talk to both parties ... He is a reliable channel to smooth the communications,” Arman told journalists.

Arman said Kiir was asked to intervene by Djibril Bassole, the joint U.N./African Union mediator currently coordinating faltering talks between Khartoum and an umbrella group of smaller rebel movements in Qatar.

It was not immediately clear whether Sudan’s overall president Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his dominant northern National Congress Party (NCP) would welcome Kiir’s direct contact with Darfur insurgents.

Sudan’s coalition government between Bashir’s northern NCP and Kiir’s southern SPLM was formed after a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.

Before the peace deal, when the SPLM was still a southern rebel movement, it tried to form alliances with Darfur activists including Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur. Five years on from the north-south accord, distrust remains deep between the former foes.

Ibrahim and Nur’s mostly non-Arab rebel groups took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003 to demand more autonomy for Darfur, which borders south Sudan. Nur, who lives in Paris, walked out of peace talks in 2006. Ibrahim, who is in Tripoli, suspended JEM’s involvement in the Qatar talks in early May.

Darfur’s joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force said JEM and government forces clashed in two, and possibly three, areas of North Darfur state on Tuesday, leaving an unknown number of casualties.

Arman said armed men shot and injured an SPLM official in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur on Tuesday, in an attack that he thought had political motives.

The International Criminal Court issued on Monday an arrest warrant for Bashir to face charges of orchestrating genocide during the government’s counter insurgency campaign in Darfur. The president is already wanted over seven charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

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