Darfur rebel leader to be honoured in Khartoum

The chairman and commander-in-chief of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) in Darfur, Minni Minnawi, is expected to arrive in Khartoum on Saturday to be sworn in as assistant to President Umar al-Bashir.

"Minni Arko Minnawi will be sworn in as assistant to the president of the republic, the fourth highest constitutional post in the country, on Sunday," Mahgoub Hussein, the official spokesman of the SLM/A, told journalists in Khartoum on Thursday.

Minnawi is the leader of the largest of three main rebel groups in Darfur and the only one that signed the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with the Sudanese government, brokered by the African Union (AU) in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. His new post in the Sudanese presidency was one of the key political demands of the rebel group in the peace negotiations.

Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nur, the leader of another faction of the SLM/A with a predominantly Fur following, and Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), refused to sign the DPA, claiming it was unacceptable as it did not fulfil their key demands including more compensation, stronger political representation and more involvement in security arrangements.

The DPA has had little popular support among civilians in Darfur, many of whom continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons and refuse to return to their villages for fear of renewed attacks. Since the signing of the DPA, violence has been widespread across Darfur due to the fragmentation of various rebel groups and escalating fighting between the signatories and non-signatories of the DPA.

Minnawi's rebel faction has been accused of committing atrocities against other rebel groups that refused to sign the DPA as well as their civilian supporters. As a result, some Darfurians have dubbed his rebel faction "Janjawid 2", after the government-aligned Janjawid militia notorious for conducting a scorched-earth campaign in Darfur.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a statement accusing Minnawi's rebel faction of killing and raping civilians in July in Korma town in North Darfur.

In a separate statement, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, the special representative of the chairperson of the AU Commission in Sudan, said his attention had been drawn to allegations of torture by the forces of Minnawi's SLM/A. The AU also accused the SLM/A of beating an unidentified person on two successive days in their quarters in the North Darfur capital El Fasher and preventing the African military monitors from intervening.

"This incident lends credence to the previous incessant allegations," Kingibe observed. The SLM/A has denied the accusations.

After his arrival on Saturday, Minnawi was expected to address a pro-DPA rally at Khartoum's Green Square, Hussein said.

Earlier on Thursday, the SLM/A held a political rally at Hajj Yousif, on the outskirts of Khartoum, where many war-displaced Sudanese live. "The purpose was to enlighten the people on the culture of peace and to introduce the SLM/A ideology, and its political mission, cultural, social and economic plans for the wellbeing of the New Sudan," he said.

Some Fur citizens who support Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nur's Darfur rebel faction reportedly disrupted the rally, however, by throwing stones and chairs into the crowd, but Hussein dismissed the violence.