UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Darfur Liberation Front
Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM)
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)

Rebel divisions and a string of broken ceasefires have scuppered years of international mediation and several rounds of peace talks. Banditry had also spread. Conflict had raged in vast arid region for almost a decade since mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab government in Khartoum in 2003, accusing it of political and economic marginalisation.

The United States expresses serious concern regarding the Government of Sudanís plans to conduct a referendum on April 11-13 over the political future of Darfur. If held under current rules and conditions, a referendum on the status of Darfur cannot be considered a credible expression of the will of the people of Darfur. Moreover, it would undermine the peace process under way. Insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation. Furthermore, the Darfur Referendum Commissionís announcement that Darfuris residing outside of Darfur will be ineligible to vote disenfranchises millions of Darfuris, refugees, and IDPs.

Regional resentment of Khartoum was not limited to the south, but was present to varying degrees in other areas of Sudan, especially the western state of Darfur. Although the ethnically diverse people of Darfur were predominantly Muslim, more than 40 percent were not Arabs and generally felt more affinity with related groups in neighboring Chad than with Khartoum. The civil strife in Chad during the 1980s inevitably spilled over into western Darfur, exacerbating historical tensions between the nonArab Fur and Zaghawa ethnic groups. The perception among many Fur that Khartoum encouraged and even armed militia among their enemies inspired guerrilla attacks on central government facilities and forces in Darfur. The general sense of antagonism toward Khartoum was reinforced by the drought and the near-famine conditions that had afflicted Darfur since 1984. Khartoum failed to cope with the social and economic consequences of the environmental disaster, a situation that increased alienation from the central government. By the early 1990s, much of Darfur was in a state of anarchy.

Darfur region is located in the western part of the Sudan. It is bordered by Libya in the North, Chad in the West and the Central African Republic in the South West. Kordofan and Bahr El-Gazal regions border the eastern and the southern parts of Darfur respectively. The estimated population of Darfur is around 4 million, approximately 60% of whom are subsistence farmers.

The major ethnic group is the Fur, hence the name Darfur [Dar = abode, darfur = abode of the Fur]. The rest are either nomadic or semi-nomadic herders. The majority of farmers live close to subsistence level. There are some small traders and local merchants, but their economic impact was insignificant.

The Fur, largely peasant farmers, occupy the central belt of the region, including the Jebel Marra massif. Also in this central zone are the non-Arab Masalit, Berti, Bargu, Bergid, Tama and Tunjur peoples, who are all sedentary farmers. The northernmost zone is Dar Zaghawa, part of the Libyan Sahara, and inhabited by camel nomads: principally the Zaghawa and Bedeyat, who are non-Arab in origin, and the Arab Mahariya, Irayqat, Mahamid and Beni Hussein. Cattle rather than camels are herded by the Arab nomads of the eastern and southern zone of Darfur, who comprise the Rezeigat, Habbaniya, Beni Halba, Taaisha and Maaliyya.

Historically, North Darfur and parts of West and South Darfur had suffered recurrent droughts. Crop yields had remained low and unpredictable due to erratic rainfall, pest infestation and the lack of agricultural inputs. The livestock had also dwindled due to pasture and water scarcity. The local labor force had continued to migrate in search of employment leaving behind children, women and the elderly. A combination of these factors over several years had systematically eroded the coping capacities of communities.

The government of Sudan maintained that conflict in this region of Darfour was primarily a tribal one, centred around the competition for land between pastoralists and crop farmers in the area. However, leaders of the Four tribe insist that the depopulation of villages and consequent changes in land ownership are part of a government strategy to change the whole demography of the region of Darfur.

Fighting between two main opposition groups -- the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) -- against the Government of Sudan (GOS) military, and GOS-supported militia groups collectively known as Janjaweed intensified in the three states of Darfur, the western region of Sudan, during late 2003. Insecurity had steadily increased since the Darfur-based opposition SLM/A attacked GOS military forces at El Fasher, North Darfur, on April 24 and 25, 2003. The humanitarian emergency in Darfur was a direct result of violence toward the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit civilian groups by GOS forces and the Janjaweed. Conflict-affected populations describe recurrent and systematic attacks against towns and villages, burning of buildings and crops, arbitrary killings, gang rape, and looting. The GOS had used aerial bombardments to terrorize civilians who the GOS claims are harboring SLM/A or JEM forces

The main cause of this conflict was the Darfurians widespread feeling of being consistently socio-economically marginalized and the sense of being left out of the peace negotiations particularly in the context of self-determination and power sharing.

There were two main rebel groups:

  • The Sudanese Liberation Army was backed by Eritrea. Until 2003, the group was known as the Darfur Liberation Front. Rebels in Darfour emerged in February 2003 under the name of Darfur Liberation Front. The Darfur Liberation Army announced no connection with the southern rebels, but it called in the middle of March 2003 for "an understanding " with the opposition forces which fight the Islamist government in Khartoum. In March 2003 the Darfour Liberation Front announced it had downed a helicopter that was carrying an official in the province. On 14 March 2003 Darfur Liberation Front announced that the movement will be called the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLM/SLA). The Darfur Liberation Front was a secessionist organisation calling for the secession of the area of Darfur from Sudan. The SLA, led by Mini Arkoi Minawi, says it wants to "create a united, democratic Sudan."
  • The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) appears to have received support from Chad, and some captured rebels were found to have Chadian identification and arms. It was said to be backed by the Sudanese opposition leader, Hassan al-Turabi. Turabi, the former speaker of Sudan's parliament and the ideologist of its Islamist revolution, was removed from office in May 2000 and inprisoned by Sudan's military. During the late 1970s he had worked with Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the Mahdist political party and grandson of The Mahdi.
The Sudanese Liberation Army was a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition organisation grouping. The Justice and Equality Movement was not.

The SLM/A issued statements that it did not seek independence, but demands greater political autonomy and a more equitable share of resources from the central Sudanese authorities. The GOS disputes the SLM/A's claims to be a political organization, labeling the rebels "bandits and armed gangs."

The Sudan Liberation Army began battling an Arab militia called Janjawid [Janjaweed, meaning "a man with a horse and a gun"] as well as government troops in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The Janjawid had been pushing local farming communities off their land in a bid to have access to the resources. Critics accuse the Sudanese government of manipulating traditional ethnic tensions and pursuing a policy of "Arabisation" in Darfur, in order to maintain a support base there. The government had denied backing the Arab militia and said it wants to bring them under control. The Sudanese government strongly denied backing the militias. It says it had urged all tribes in Darfur to "defend" themselves against rebels in the region.

The most powerful Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, signed a truce with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in February 2010 in Doha, Qatar. The deal, negotiated in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, was spurred along by the recent pledge from Sudan and Chad to quit fueling the proxy war on their border. The cease-fire was supposed to lay the groundwork for a formal peace deal to be completed by March 15,. The final agreement is to incorporate elements of power-sharing, prisoner amnesty, and the integration of rebel forces in the Sudanese army. Other rebel groups have not signed on to the deal. The normalization of relations between Chad and Sudan definitely had a great role in this breakthrough between JEM and the Sudan government.

The other main rebel group on the ground, the Sudan Liberation Movement faction still aligned to exiled-leader Abdel Wahid al-Nur, refused to join the peace talks. While JEM holds Islamist ideological ties with the Khartoum regime, SLA is an ethnic Fur-dominated rebellion seeking secular rule.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 21-06-2016 19:02:22 ZULU