Picking up Alex’s question about the calculations of the JEM leadership, I believe this was a serious attempt at regime change—however over-ambitious or foolhardy it may now seem. JEM has said openly ever since it refused to sign the DPA that it has a new policy and that policy is regime change. In our new book—Darfur: A New History of a Long War, out this month—we quote someone who knows Khalil well as making the point that ‘Khalil strongly believes in a march to overthrow the regime from Darfur, Kordofan and South Sudan.’
All who know the JEM chairman well say he genuinely believes in an uprising of the marginalized masses, the disenfranchised of the Black Book that he helped write.
The trouble with the march on Omdurman is that it was uncoordinated. Khalil flew solo, and the attack collapsed before anyone could rise up (if they were inclined to, with JEM, rebellious child of the NIF, in the driving seat). The most successful blows the Darfur rebels have struck to date have been combined blows: the spectacular attack against El Fasher air base in April 2003 (SLA and JEM); the defeat of SAF in Um Sidir and Kariari in 2006 (G19, SLA Unity, JEM) etc. JEM acting alone failed. But not only JEM will pay the price. Three men—Khater Jali, Abdalla Abdelkarim Ateen and Mubarak Ahmad Jalilallah – were arrested in Khartoum yesterday for no better reason than they are Zaghawa and one of their neighbours, Suleiman Jamous, belongs to SLA Unity. That they are not SLA Unity, and that SLA Unity had no role in the attack on Omdurman, is irrelevant. They are Zaghawa, and they are the neighbours of a rebel.
Security sources within the regime admit privately that the Antonov bombardment of Shigeg Karo in North Darfur on 4 May was an attempt to catch JEM as it crossed the border from Chad with new vehicles and heavy weapons. JEM was gone by the time the Antonov struck. The dead and wounded were all civilians—many of them children.
The regime failed to catch JEM’s fighters as they set out. We can be sure it will try to catch them on the way back. There will be more Shigeg Karos. The failure of JEM is the failure of all the rebel movements. It is their disunity that makes peace, and war, impossible enterprises for the moment.