February 28, 2011 / 5:58 PM / in 8 years

EXCLUSIVE-Darfur rebels urge rescue of JEM leader from Libya

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfur’s most powerful rebel group on Monday asked the United Nations to rescue its leader from Libya, saying his life was in danger after accusations he was supplying mercenaries to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leader Khalil Ibrahim speaks at a news conference following peace talks in Doha February 17, 2009. REUTERS/Osama Faisal

The Justice and Equality Movement’s (JEM) call suggests the uprising against Gaddafi may create a new dynamic in the eight-year conflict in Sudan’s Darfur, which borders Libya.

JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim has been in Libya since May last year when Chad barred him from passing through its territory and confiscated his travel documents.

Any ousting of Gaddafi could deprive Ibrahim of one of his last safe havens in the region. JEM could also lose arms and funding — analysts have accused Gaddafi of backing JEM since it first launched its revolt against Sudan’s government in 2003.

JEM also told Reuters on Monday it was ready to return to full peace talks with Sudan’s government, but insisted there was no link between its readiness to travel to the negotiations in Qatar and the need for evacuation.

Witnesses have said Gaddafi has used African mercenaries to fight his people as he tries to crush a revolt against his rule.

Sudan’s foreign ministry last week said it had evidence Darfur rebel groups were involved in the fighting in Libya that has claimed at least 1,000 lives in a country that produces two percent of the world’s oil.

“We call upon the international community to live up to its responsibility of securing the evacuation of Dr Khalil to where he is safe, in the sake of peace and the sake of securing his life,” senior JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters by phone from Paris.

“The irresponsible comments that JEM and Darfuris are part of the mercenaries have put in danger the lives of all Sudanese in the area including the chairman of JEM,” he said.

JEM has regularly denied widespread reports that it has received support from Libya and neighbouring Chad. N’Djamena turned its back on the rebel group last year after a rapprochement with Khartoum.

Feki said he was in daily contact with Ibrahim who remained calm but aware of the turmoil around him.

Another JEM official Suleiman Jamous told Reuters the group was appealing directly to the United Nations and the African Union and would be prepared to move Ibrahim to the venue of floundering peace talks in Qatar.

JEM walked out of the talks last year, accusing Khartoum of breaking a ceasefire. Khartoum later pulled its own negotiating team out of Doha, saying it would continue to push for peace inside Sudan.

Feki said JEM was preparing to send a team to Doha this week and was ready to resume talks. “This is not at all related to what is happening in Libya ... We made this decision about three to four weeks ago,” he said.

Khartoum’s main Darfur negotiator Ghazi Salaheddin also flew to Doha on Monday to study new proposals from joint U.N./AU mediators, state media reported.

Sudan’s foreign ministry estimates there are around half a million Sudanese living in Libya. Planes carrying more than 500 of them were due to arrive in Khartoum via Egypt on Monday.

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