Key Darfur rebel group says new leader chosen


A key rebel group in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region said on Thursday it has chosen a one-time university professor to head the movement after his brother, the former leader, was killed last month. At a two-day meeting in South Kordofan state, the Justice and Equality Movement selected Gibril Ibrahim to replace his brother Khalil, the group’s spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal told AFP. “(The) Justice and Equality Movement held its extraordinary general conference in South Kordofan, attended by 109 people who elected Gibril Ibrahim as the leader,” Bilal said by satellite telephone.
The JEM meeting affirmed its commitment to work with other rebel groups “to remove the regime”, and endorsed all decisions made by its late leader in previous years, he added. Gibril Ibrahim trained as an economist and worked as a professor at universities in Khartoum and Saudi Arabia. He has recently been based in London where he served as an adviser to JEM and head of its foreign relations. JEM announced that his brother Khalil Ibrahim, 54, was killed on December 23 in an air strike, although Sudan’s military said the longtime rebel chief was wounded during a clash with government forces in North Kordofan, which adjoins North Darfur state, and died later.
JEM and other rebel groups drawn from Darfur’s ethnic minorities rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003 and were confronted by state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide. Since then, the rebel movements have fallen into banditry and the government is keen to bring JEM into a peace deal to bring a “clean end” to the conflict, said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy group. “The politically motivated rebellion of 2003 is essentially dead,” he said.
The United Nations estimates at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, with about 300 killed in clashes last year. The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000. Gibril Ibrahim inherits a movement that has been weakened by chronic war and divisions, Gizouli said. “Unless he has some regional backing, his options are limited” and he may ultimately seek an accommodation with the government, Gizouli said.
In a report last week the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project, wrote of speculation that Gibril could take over the leadership because of a critical requirement that the Kobe sub-group of the Zaghawa people remain dominant in the movement. “Gibril lacks his brother’s military experience, which may lead Abubakr Hamid Nour, a JEM military field leader to take on greater prominence,” it said.
In July, Khartoum signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur with the Liberation and Justice Movement, an alliance of rebel splinter factions. But the JEM did not join, saying key issues, including power and wealth sharing, human rights violations and the almost two million displaced by the conflict, had not been resolved. Two factions of Darfur’s Sudan Liberation Army, which together with JEM represent the main rebel groups in the region, also rejected the Doha deal.
In November, the holdouts formed a “revolutionary front” to overthrow the Khartoum government, teaming up with rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North based in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, contested regions bordering newly independent South Sudan.
The rebels say they are in a struggle for “democracy and civil rights” against an Arab-dominated regime unrepresentative of the country’s political, ethnic and religious diversity. Ibrahim Gambari, who heads the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission to Darfur, told AFP on Wednesday that JEM appeared to have split into factions since Khalil Ibrahim’s death. Until his successor was named, it remained unclear whether more groups would sign up to the peace deal inked in Qatar last year, Gambari said. “We’ll have to wait and see what leadership emerges, how much support such a leadership has, and then we’ll take it from there,” he said.