Khalil Ibrahim, chairman of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), voiced contempt for the peace process facilitated by international mediators and hosted by the emirate of Qatar. In a telephone interview with Radio Dabanga on Friday from Tripoli, he stated that he refuses to continue to negotiate under the current circumstances and denounced an international ‘conspiracy’ to force him to return to the Qatari capital at Doha. The rebel chief leads the most militarily powerful of Darfur’s many armed opposition factions.
The JEM chairman asked for the intervention of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who had declined an invitation to attend the Thursday inauguration ceremony of Omar Al Bashir. He appealed to Gaddafi to “mediate constructively and help us find a better way of negotiating a peaceful settlement.” He said that the Libyan government welcomed him and would not expel him.
Improving ties between Chad and Sudan in late 2009 and early 2010 had increased the pressure on JEM to reach a peace agreement with the government of Sudan. Ibrahim agreed to a ‘framework’ peace agreement in February before further talks were suspended ahead of Sudan’s elections held 11-15 April. Military confrontations between JEM and government forces rapidly escalated in early May. “We honored the ceasefire agreement and we allowed them to organize elections, and then once they’d had their chance to rig the election they thought they could crush us, but they were wrong because we won all the battles that we fought,” said Ibrahim.
JEM has suspended its participation at the Doha talks. Ibrahim, who says he was “held hostage” in Qatar for 47 days, claimed to have slipped out of Qatar without the knowledge of either the Qatari government or the mediators. He found his way to Libya via Egypt. In an effort to return to Chad, presumably en route to his troops in Darfur, he was denied entry at the Ndjamena airport and spent more than 19 hours in a stand-off on board a Libyan Afriqiyah airlines plane. Chadian authorities destroyed his Chadian passport and those of his entire entourage.
Khalil Ibrahim told Radio Dabanga that what happened was not planned by Chad but was part of a wider, internationally planned conspiracy to force JEM to sign a peace deal that would not provide for the political demands of Darfur. The talks are taking a “sad twist,” he said, similar to what happened at Abuja when the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in 2006. The rebel chief disclosed that the top mediator, UN-African Union representative Djibril Bassolé, contacted him while they were being ‘intimidated’ in Chad, offering them a travel document for a one-way trip to Qatar. Ibrahim called this “a very bad way to intimidate someone to participate.” After Ibrahim’s arrival in Tripoli, the mediators offered him another possibility of traveling to Qatar with a new document but he rejected that as well.
He declined to comment on the causes behind the deteriorated relationship between JEM and Chad. Asked why he believed there was a conspiracy involved, the JEM chairman responded that the international community and the US envoy Scott Gration are planning to conduct the referendum for self-determination of South Sudan at the expense Darfur, which is why they do not want to pressure Khartoum.
The rebel leader repeatedly voiced scorn for the current mediators. He suggested that the UN-AU Joint Chief Mediator is pursuing a personal agenda, is bribed by certain countries, attempted to blackmail the JEM leaders while they were at the Ndjamena airport, and does not care to discuss the root causes of the war and the suffering of the refugees and displaced. He further suggested that the supposedly neutral Qatari foreign ministry was actually cooperating with Sudan. Gration, he said, was only present at Doha with the aim of putting an end to the Darfur issue so as to be able to turn to the issue of the referendum of South Sudan: “It became clear to us that he was less interested in Darfur,” said Ibrahim.
He added that JEM had participated in the Doha talks since the beginning of 2009 and signed more than one agreement but later on they noticed that the Doha peace process was becoming ‘chaotic’ and became a place for a conspiracy against JEM’s cause. Mediators have gathered more than 500 people in Doha for the talks on Darfur, including civil society organizations and leaders of opposition movements that do not actually exist, said Ibrahim. “Because the Qataris have a lot of money they brought hundreds of people and put them in hotels. This is chaos, not negotiation. There is no clear plan.”
The rebel chief called for a “radical reform” of the mediation team and a review of the UN-African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Alleging that the peacekeepers were “looking for quick benefits at the expense of Darfur,” he called for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to review the issue. He also demanded that the United Nations facilitate the return of him and his entourage to the ground in Darfur, since this was the initial agreement that the JEM leaders struck with the mediators. “If the peace comes through pressure and intimidation, they can go ahead and see what kind of result they will achieve.”
Mediators said earlier this week that the peace talks will resume in the first week of June. The Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella rebel group that formed in February but was unable to absorb JEM, gave signs that it will participate. The LJM leader Tigani Sese recently travelled to Tripoli. Some of his men met with JEM representatives to discuss the possibility of unification in order to have a single position during the peace process. Khalil Ibrahim said that his absence from Darfur will not affect the movement’s capabilities, mentioning his three years in Europe during the early years of the rebellion.
The government of Sudan says that the JEM chairman is a criminal. It has asked the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to ensure that he is arrested. Khartoum has also asked Tripoli to oust the JEM chairman. Khalil Ibrahim is a medical physician who studied at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. He is a member of the Zaghawa tribe, the same tribe as the president of Chad. He formerly served as Minister of Education in Darfur and was a member of the National Islamic Front, the predecessor of Sudan’s current ruling party.