Qaeda urges attacks on Darfur force, talks questioned By Andrew Heavens
Thu Sep 20, 11:48 AM ET
Al Qaeda urged Sudanese Muslims on Thursday to fight African Union and United Nations peacekeeping troops in Darfur as rebels cast doubt on whether peace talks to pave the way for the force could succeed.
Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri called for a holy war on the troops that he said were invading Darfur, and criticized Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for accepting the 26,000-strong joint A.U.-U.N. operation.
"Bashir announced before that he would oppose the deployment of international troops to Darfur ... but this was a lie ... and he backtracked step by step until he had agreed to everything they imposed on him," Zawahri said in an 80-minute video.
Zawahri accused Bashir of abandoning his Muslim brothers to appease the United States and said he did not deserve the protection of Muslims.
"The free mujahideen sons of Sudan must organise jihad against the forces invading Darfur," he said.
A Sudanese Armed Forces spokesman denied any Al Qaeda presence in Sudan, while a diplomatic source in Khartoum said the joint U.N.-A.U. mission was watching developments closely after Zawahri's statement.
"The borders in Sudan are porous and it would not be hard for people to move around," the source said.
Opposition and rebel groups said Al Qaeda would not be welcomed in Sudan.
"These forces are coming to protect Darfuris and the Darfuris need peace," said Bashir Adam Rahma, a leading member of the Islamist-oriented opposition Popular Congress Party. "I believe the people of Darfur will fight anybody who tries to fight these forces."
International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in more than four years of conflict in Darfur, figures that Khartoum dismisses.
Ahmed Hussein Adam, spokesman for the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said: "We want them to stay away, out of Darfur. Darfur is not their land. The Muslims of Darfur have nothing to do with al-Qaeda."
A Darfur rebel leader said October peace talks with Sudan's government to establish stability in Sudan's remote west ahead of the full roll out of peacekeepers should be postponed.
Ahmed Abdel Shafie, head of a breakaway faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, was the third senior rebel leader to question the U.N. and A.U.-brokered talks planned for Libya on October 27, saying violence was impeding preparations.
"The parties to the conflict in Darfur are not yet prepared to enter into genuine political negotiations," the faction said in a statement.
The comments came a week after the head of Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Khalil Ibrahim said that continued clashes with government troops might make it impossible for him to leave his fighters to attend the talks.
Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, another SLM faction leader who lives in Paris, has said he would refuse to attend any peace talks before the arrival the peacekeepers.
Five rebel groups, including JEM and SLM factions, held a second day of negotiations in the Chadian capital N'Djamena on Thursday to hammer out a common position on the peace talks.
A conference on Darfur between the United Nations and the African Union is due to take place in New York on Friday.
Abdel Shafie said he was not yet threatening to pull out of the Libya talks, saying: "We are demanding a few months of calm, but the precise period of time is up for negotiation. If our demands are not met, it will be very hard for these peace talks to succeed."
(Additional reporting by Simon Apiku in Khartoum and Lin Noueihed in Dubai)