At the military level in the field, all the Darfur rebel factions are currently cooperating, exhibiting a pragmatic survival instinct that is rallying the disparate militias against their common enemies. The Sudanese government has stepped up hostilities since early 2011, focusing on the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) stronghold of Jebel Marra and then the Zaghawa-held areas of North and South Darfur such as Shangal Tobaiya, where SLA-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) draws strength.
Minawi's about-face and rejection of the Abuja Agreement in December 2010 pushed him back into rebellion, instigating a new cycle of violence as the government pursued his forces and their affiliated ethnic populations. Beginning in December, North Darfur Governor Osman Kibbir launched an offensive against towns where SLA-MM had a presence. First the rebels were targeted, but then the focus shifted to the Zaghawa population. The Government of Sudan (GoS) armed and encouraged non-Zaghawa ethnic groups living with the Zaghawa to expel them, with exhortations to reclaim their land from 'the new settlers'. Much of the new displacement in Darfur in March–June 2011 was a result of this purge and the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Jebel Marra. A particularly egregious case of anti-Zaghawa killing occurred in Abu Zerega, close to the North Darfur capital of al Fasher. The perpetrators, as in other attacks on Zaghawa, were non-Arab militias, specifically Tunjur and some Birgid. These fighters even attacked Zaghawa members of a government investigative committee on a fact-finding mission to the area.
Both SLA-MM and SLA-AW fought against government forces around these towns and fared well, capturing vehicles, arms, and ammunition. Among the displaced, many of those of fighting age joined the ranks of SLA-MM rather than move to the IDP camps.
SLA-AW has settled in Kampala, Uganda, after being all but expelled from its longtime base in Paris. Ugandan officials argue that support for SLA-AW is motivated by ideology (Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur was formerly a Sudan Communist Party adherent), but confidentially they state that it is a tit-for-tat response to the GoS's perceived support for the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). GoS sources firmly deny government support for the LRA and argue that Uganda's real goal in aiding SLA-AW is a dominant relationship with the new Republic of South Sudan. Ugandan assistance to SLA-AW is in any case extremely limited, mainly confined to hosting the rebel group in Kampala.
SLA-AW continues to refuse to participate in the Doha peace process, but has in recent weeks indicated that it agrees in principle with the final communiqué issued by the All Darfur Stakeholders' Conference in Doha on 31 May 2011.
SLA has announced a form of rapprochement, if not unity, that brings its former secretary-general (Minni Minawi) and its chairman (Abdul Wahid) closer than they have been in the years since the split. SLA-Mother (also known as SLA-Abu Gasim), led by Abu al Gasim Imam al Haj, a signatory to the Abuja Agreement, has also entered into alliance with SLA-AW. A former governor of West Darfur and state minister, Abu al Gasim defected from the government to rejoin his former comrades.
On 3 October 2011, the Sudanese Bloc to Liberate the Republic (SBLR) announced it was joining the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). SBLR leader Magoub Hussein, formerly a member of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), was relieved of his post on 14 July 2011 after he was accused of negotiating a separate track with the GoS in Doha.
On 13 November 2011, SLA-MM, SLA-AW, JEM, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) agreed to form a coalition named the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF). While aspiring to a single, unified political structure, the SRF is at this stage more a coalition of military forces with broad agreement on a political vision. Whether it becomes more than just a loose political and military affiliation remains to be seen. The need for a geographically comprehensive peace process and the further unification of all Sudanese opposition forces form the SRF’s main platform.
The Darfurian components of the SRF have pledged not to enter into armed hostilities with the LJM, a signatory of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, allaying fears of a repeat of the intra-Darfurian fighting that characterized the period following the partial signing of the Abuja Agreement&emdash;the Darfur Peace Agreement&emdash;in 2006.
The SRF alliance held after the killing of JEM Chairman Khalil Ibrahim around 22-24 December 2011. SRF continues its activities but is in something of a holding pattern until JEM regroups and announces its new permanent leader. Some forecast JEM will draw closer to other SRF members and also adopt a more flexible position on negotiations with the GoS in the wake of Khalil Ibrahim’s passing. This analysis derives from JEM being weaker now, and also because Khalil Ibrahim was a controversial figure for South Sudanese members of the SRF due to his “mujahid” past in South Sudan. Khalil Ibrahim also regularly took strong positions against negotiating with the GoS, and his attitude was not shared by the whole of JEM. One JEM faction, known to be more Darfur-centric, saw the Doha negotiations as a missed opportunity for the movement. This view may become more ascendant within JEM now.
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