KHARTOUM – Darfur rebels signed an accord with one of Sudan's main opposition parties in Cairo on Wednesday, agreeing to push for a new transitional government, both sides said on Friday, a move that will infuriate Khartoum.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which attacked Khartoum last year, and the opposition Umma party told Reuters the deal was a declaration of principles and shared ideas and did not amount to a political or military alliance.
But the sight of Umma, led by Sudan's last democratically elected Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, sitting with insurgents will be deeply unsettling to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, currently beset by a string of political crises.
JEM commander Suleiman Sandal told Reuters the group would continue its struggle against Khartoum, but was also interested in finding ways to unseat the government through politics. We agreed that our country is in danger with many problems, and that those problems should have a national solution, he said.
We are still separate organizations. We are working to achieve one strategic target, but there are differences in means. The one target is to work against the government.
The agreement comes almost 20 years to the day after Bashir overthrew Mahdi's government in a bloodless coup in 1989.
A new government would be include all political groups in Sudan, including Bashir's National Congress Party and Darfur's main armed groups, to pave the way for delayed elections, JEM and Umma said.
Sudan is led by a north-south coalition government set up in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war between the country's Muslim north and its mainly Christian south.
Under the deal, Sudan's national parliament is dominated by Bashir's National Congress Party, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by south Sudan's president.
Umma and JEM leaders said Sudan's government would become illegitimate on July 9, the date that national elections were originally due to start under the CPA.
That will leave a constitutional vacuum that can only be addressed through a national government, Umma vice-president Fadlalla Burma Nasir told Reuters.
Sudan's promised elections have been delayed until April 2010. Both the NCP and the SPLM have accepted the delay and said their government should continue until the new poll date.
Nasir said Sudan's president had no reason to be unsettled by the accord. All we have done is sit down together. This is not an agreement for war. This is an agreement for peace.
Sudan's problems are too big for any individual, any party to solve. We have to open the door to all the people who carry arms. We have to sit down with them... We can not neglect JEM.
JEM was among rebels who took up arms against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the region. Khartoum mobilized mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising.
Discussions between JEM and Khartoum in Qatar, designed to pave the way to peace talks, were suspended last month.
Under the JEM and Umma accord, both sides said they supported the U.N. decision to refer the Darfur conflict to the International Criminal Court -- although Nasir said Umma still opposed the court's decision to issue an arrest warrant against Bashir. They also rejected the findings of a recent census.
No one was available to comment from the government.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)