- The Darfur rebels fighting the government of Sudan allegedly have been given military training in Eritrea, according to the Eritrean opposition. Also the government of Chad is accused of inciting and aiding the rebels in Darfur, western Sudan, as the Darfuri population has the same ethnic background as the Chadian leadership.
In Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) are the two main armed groups fighting the Sudanese government and the government-supported Janjaweed militias. SLA and JEM claim to protect the "black African" population of Darfur against attacks from the so-called "Arabs" ruling in Khartoum and organised in the Janjaweed militias.
While the SLA and JEM have been almost crushed militarily by Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed, the armed groups' sudden strength one year ago came as a surprise to most observers. There have been many speculations regarding support from Western countries and regional foes of Khartoum in the build-up of the two Darfuri rebel groups.
Early speculations pointed against Eritrea, which for the last years has had troubled relations with Khartoum. Many Eritrean dissidents are housed in Sudan and Eritrea accused Sudan of training Eritrean wishing to fight the regime of non-elected President Issayas Afewerki. Sudan accused Eritrea of supporting several armed groups fighting Khartoum. The two neighbours have closed their borders.
The government of Sudan already in January this year officially complained to the UN Security Council "against Eritrea for its instigation of, support for and financing of the outlaws in the Darfur region," according to the official 'Sudan News Agency'. "Eritrea contacted the outlaws, set up training camps for them and supported them with arms," Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail was quoted as saying.
This Sudanese allegation is now repeated by the opposition group Eritrean National Democratic Front (ENDF), one of the many fragmented groups of exiled Eritreans seeking to establish a democracy in Eritrea. ENDF leader Muhammad Uthman Abu-Bakr told the international Arab newspaper 'Al-Hayat' that the Eritrean government had given the Darfur rebels camps in the suburbs of Asmara, outside the coastal city of Massawa and in Hikuta at the Eritrean-Ethiopian border.
The training camps provided by the Eritrean government, according to Mr Abu-Bakr, had been used by three Darfuri rebel groups, including SLA and JEM, who also had been given "political and media assistance". The Eritrean opposition politician also alleged that Asmara was hosting two rebel groups active in eastern Sudan.
According to the German Sudan observer Uwe Friesecke, the Eritrean link to Darfur's rebellion goes even further back. Eritrea has common aims with the rebels of South Sudan led by John Garang in establishing several fronts for the Khartoum government. Asmara, according to Mr Friesecke, in April 2003 hosted a meeting between the rebel leader Garang and the SLA, following this aim.
Mr Friesecke claims that greater geopolitical interests are behind the alleged Eritrean engagement in Darfur. According to the German analyst, the government of Uganda is also a major supporter and arms supplier for the SLA. Uganda for years has supported South Sudan's rebel leader, Mr Garang, while Khartoum has supported the LRA rebels terrorising northern Uganda.
According to Mr Friesecke's analysis, Eritrea, Uganda, Mr Garang's rebels and the SLA all share one common interest apart from weakening Khartoum; they want to become major allies of the US and Western European powers. The analyst sees the regional supporters of SLA as puppets of a Western plot to weaken the Islamist government in Khartoum, or even "seek the disintegration of Sudan," a potentially oil-rich country.
The Chadian link to Darfur is however explained in other manners. Chad's President Idriss Deby and the ruling elite in N'djamena have deep personal ties with Darfur. The Zaghawa people, which is a big group in Darfur and within the SLA, are also in power in N'djamena. President Deby, himself a Zaghawa, came to power in a 1990 coup that was prepared in Darfur with the assistance of Darfuris.
Chad now hosts around 120,000 Darfuri refugees that tell tales of terror inflicted upon them by the armed forces of Sudan and their allied Janjaweed militias. Their presence in Chad and their mostly Zaghawa origin has made the Darfur conflict a Chadian issue. Several reports, including by the renowned International Crisis Group (ICG), claim to document arms deliveries from Chad to the SLA rebels in Darfur.
While the Chadian government and Zaghawa groups in eastern Chad are said to have supplied arms to the SLA and JEM rebels, the N'djamena government is however careful to maintain a balanced standing to avoid the conflict spilling into Chad. The government of Chad has also "openly supplied troops to the Sudanese army in Darfur," according to UN sources.
Khartoum therefore still maintains positive diplomatic relations with N'djamena. Ties with Eritrea and Uganda are however as poor as never before. Also the North-South peace process between Khartoum and Mr Garang's rebels is currently halted. Khartoum needs to focus on the Darfur crisis, government officials say.
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