The difficulties facing the Doha peace talks—highlighted in my report for the Small Arms Survey: Rhetoric and Reality. The Failure to Resolve the Darfur Conflict—have been starkly illustrated as meetings resume in Doha between mediators and representatives of some of the Darfur armed movements. (Planned talks between the movements and civil society have been postponed, apparently indefinitely, at the insistence of JEM.)
Since 5 January, rival factions of SLA-Abdul Wahid have been fighting each other in Jebel Marra. The fighting, which has been largely unreported, has caused civilians to flee from a number of villages in the south of the mountains, towards Nyertiti and Kass. There are fears that the violence, which has many fault lines, too complicated to explain in this short posting, could have repercussions among civilians in IDP camps where SLA-Abdul Wahid has a hold.
It will be impossible to reach a sustainable settlement to the simmering but still-unresolved conflict in Darfur, regardless of anything the government does or does not do, while the ‘revolution’ of 2003 is eating itself.
The intra-SLA fighting has claimed the lives of a number of commanders critical of the SLA Chairman, his decision to reside in France rather than Darfur, and his refusal both to participate in the Doha process and to seek reconciliation in the SLA faction he leads. Some of the commanders have died in armed clashes; others have perished in ambushes—most recently, a commander from Kass, Mohamed Adam ‘Shamba’, whose car was reportedly attacked with rocket-propelled grenades in Jebel Marra on 26 January.
The long-standing tensions within SLA-AW over Abdul Wahid’s management surfaced dramatically (albeit behind closed doors) in the middle of 2009 when senior SLA commanders—including several of those considered most loyal to Abdul Wahid—‘challenged him for 10 days’, in the words of one of those present, at a capacity-building workshop in Switzerland. The chief of staff of the SLA, Yousif Ahmad Yousif ‘Karjakola’, went as far as to call the SLA chairman incompetent. Others complained about a lack of support, including salaries and military supplies, and the refusal to participate in the internationally-mediated peace process led by Djibril Bassole.
The spark to January’s mini-war appears to have been the capture of Karjakola by JEM in November 2009 as he returned to Darfur from Chad. Abdul Wahid’s critics allege that JEM acted at the instigation of the SLA Chairman, and are super-critical of the US special envoy, Gen. Scott Gration, for not seeking the release of a senior commander who defied Abdul Wahid’s rejectionism and favoured participating in the peace process. After Karjakola’s arrest, I received calls from SLA commanders in Darfur claiming that they have evidence of a ‘hit list’ (reportedly backed by serious money) of pro-peace reformers. I am aware that Abdul Wahid loyalists have made similar claims to others, but have no details of their claims. The list is said to include several SLA leaders in the Ain Siro area—including Ali Haroun, a law graduate of Khartoum University and responsible for justice in the SLA, and Suleiman Sakerey, the highest military commander in Ain Siro. Both met the AU High-Level Panel on Darfur in June last year.
Ain Siro has been untouched by the factional fighting and serious human rights abuses that have cast such a cloud over some rebel-controlled areas. But it has a history of problems with the SLA leadership in Jebel Marra. A number of commanders from Ain Siro were ‘arrested’ and taken to Jebel Marra, Abdul Wahid’s headquarters, late in 2007 as they gave voice to growing popular demand from the field for reform of the movement that Abdul Wahid leads from the diaspora. A confidential UN report said the Ain Siro group were accused of ‘attempting to divide the movement’. During the group’s detention in Jebel Marra, a university companion of Ali Haroun, Abdalla Mohamed, was kidnapped with his bodyguard, Hamadi, by masked men from the centre of Deribat, the SLA stronghold where the Ain Siro group was being held. (Abdalla’s body was later found three months later, hanged, in a village in Jebel Marra. Hamadi’s body was found in the same village, shot in the back.) I personally went to Paris to ask Abdul Wahid for guarantees for the safety of the Ain Siro group. He assured me they would come to no harm, and they were indeed released—albeit many months later. Abdul Wahid claimed that Abdalla Mohamed had been seized, from the market in Deribat, by ‘janjaweed’. I do not know Deribat. I leave it to those who do to judge whether ‘janjaweed’ could have got into the centre of the town, and out again, without a fight.
On 5 January this year, a senior SLA commander critical of Abdul Wahid and supportive of the peace process, Abdalla Abaker, was shot dead by Abdul Wahid loyalists at a checkpoint in Jebel Marra. Abdalla’s supporters subsequently attacked and looted the homes of a number of commanders considered to be Abdul Wahid loyalists, setting in motion a chain of attack and counter-attack that will continue until the root causes of the problem are resolved—most importantly the lack of structures, and accountability, in Jebel Marra.
The people of Darfur—those stuck in wretched camps and those still clinging to the countryside so utterly devastated by Khartoum’s criminal counter-insurgency—deserve better leadership than this. I have many reports of, and testimony to, the latest clashes and killings. It is a pity that none of this reaches the ‘ordinary’ people of Darfur, to enable them to judge for themselves who they want to represent them and speak on their behalf. A little naming and shaming, with dispassionate, detailed reporting of what exactly is going on—and why—might help Darfurians to find a voice of their own that is informed by fact rather than internet rumour and propaganda.