KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A rebel group, the strongest in Sudan’s Darfur region, will press efforts to overthrow the country’s Arab-dominated government after electing the brother of its slain leader as chairman, an official said on Thursday.
Last month, government forces killed Khalil Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), dealing a heavy blow to Darfur’s nearly decade-long insurgency in which hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed.
Some political analysts questioned whether JEM - seen by as the most militarily powerful of Darfur’s various rebel groups - might splinter into rival factions after Ibrahim’s death.
JEM’s spokesman Gibreel Adam Bilal played down that possibility, saying over 100 of the group’s leaders from inside and outside Sudan met in the South Kordofan state on January 24 and 25, and elected Ibrahim’s brother as their new chief.
An alliance known as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front between JEM and other insurgents in Darfur and two border states would also continue, he said.
“The leaders elected Dr. Jibril Ibrahim as chairman of the Movement, and decided to continue on the same route to depose the government and coordinate with the Revolutionary Front to achieve this goal,” Bilal said by satellite phone.
The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms, complaining the central government had economically and politically marginalised the region. Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly-Arab militias to quell the unrest.
International efforts to broker peace in the region have so far faltered, hindered by fighting and rebel divisions.
In July, Sudan’s government signed a Qatar-sponsored peace deal with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella organisation of small rebel groups. JEM and other insurgents - including two factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) - refused to join.
Rabie Abdelati, a senior member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, said he hoped JEM’s new leader would be more willing to negotiate.
“The government is hoping that the next phase will be the phase of peace and not the phase of war,” he said.
“They can reach peace and we can also reach peace, but this will not happen unless they put down arms and come to the negotiating table.”
As many as 300,000 people may have been killed in the Darfur conflict, the United Nations has said, although accurate estimates are hard to obtain. Khartoum has put the toll at 10,000.
While violence has died down, law and order have collapsed in some areas and attacks by criminals, militias, soldiers and tribal groups have continued in recent years.
The International Criminal Court has charged Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with masterminding genocide and other crimes in the region, accusations Khartoum dismisses as political.