Darfur conflict flares after Sudan President Bashir declares war over

Darfur conflict flares after a Darfur rebel group said it was attacked by government troops Wednesday, just as Sudan President Hassan Al Bashir declared the war in Darfur over.

Albert Gonzalez Farran/ UNAMID/ Reuters
Sudan's President Hassan al-Bashir (c.) arrives at El Fasher International Airport, north Darfur, Wednesday. Bashir declared the war in Darfur over.

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The Darfur conflict flared again after a Darfur rebel group said it was attacked by government troops Wednesday, just as the government signed a cease-fire with a separate rebel group and Sudan’s President Hassan Al Bashir declared the war in Darfur over.

The Sudanese Army denied any clashes happened Wednesday in the Jabel Marra region in Darfur, which it said is under government control. But the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said it was attacked in at least three areas, reports Reuters. The French aid organization Medecins du Monde confirmed that fighting had taken place, forcing it to suspend operations Wednesday. The group said the city of Deirbat had been attacked, though it did not say by whom, causing a “massive flight of people” and bringing the number of displaced in the region to 100,000.

Reuters reports the SLA’s spokesman said “heavy” fighting went on throughout the night:

"The government attacked in huge numbers backed up by Antonovs [airplanes], helicopter gunships and MiGs (fighter jets). This is the peace the government is offering."

The fighting comes after Sudan’s government signed a cease-fire deal in Doha with a separate rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), late Tuesday. The government committed to reaching a final peace deal with the rebels by March 15, according to Reuters. BBC reports that the JEM will form a political party after a final agreement is reached and will be offered seats in Khartoum’s government. The agreement also stipulates the release of JEM fighters and lifts death sentences against some of the rebels.

The first of the prisoners were released Wednesday, reports Al Jazeera, and Sudanese President Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, said the war in Darfur was over. Mr. Bashir was indicted last year on charges of crimes against humanity related to the conflict in Darfur.

"Now the crisis has finished in Darfur. Now the war is finished in Darfur.... We must start fighting the war for development," Bashir said at a rally in the capital of North Darfur.

The conflict in Darfur, which began in 2003, pitted armed groups of Sudanese in Darfur, who complained of government neglect and marginalization, against government-backed militias. As many as 300,000 have died from fighting, disease, and hunger, and as many as 3 million people have been displaced.

The fact that the SLA has not agreed to a ceasefire and reported clashes with government troops Wednesday is not the only reason many are wary of Bashir’s statement that the long, bloody conflict is over. This is not the first cease-fire the government has signed with the JEM; a deal brokered a year ago broke down within days.

The Sudan Tribune also reports that JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim on Thursday rejected separate government talks with another rebel group called the Liberation Movement for Justice, which had refused to join JEM in negotiations with the government. Mr. Ibrahim threatened to withdraw from the deal signed Tuesday in protest, reports the paper.

The New York Times reports that the move may be motivated by upcoming elections instead of a desire to bring a lasting end to the conflict.

Sudan is edging into a very uncertain period right now, and one of the factors fueling suspicion of this latest peace deal […] is the timing. In less than two months, Sudan is supposed to hold its first free elections in decades, and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has reasons to be concerned. […]

“The government cannot win without Darfur,” said Ibrahim Mirghani, a dean at Al Zaiem Al Azhari University in Sudan. “It’s a big constituency, and now they get what they were looking for — voters!”

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