Returned Darfur leader says working to topple regime

 A top Darfuri rebel leader, back from Libya, told AFP he is working with other armed groups to topple the Sudanese regime and that UN reports of violence subsiding in Darfur are inaccurate.

 A top Darfuri rebel leader, back from Libya, told AFP he is working with other armed groups to topple the Sudanese regime and that UN reports of violence subsiding in Darfur are inaccurate.

"I have returned to my country to fight for the rights of the people in all regions of Sudan... and to put in place a programme for the next stage in the resistance to this despotic regime," Khalil Ibrahim said in a written response to emailed questions.

"We are in communication with all the (rebel) parties... and we are trying to coordinate an alliance with them to overthrow this regime," he added.

Ibrahim heads the Justice and Equality Movement, Darfur's most heavily-armed group, and was a key player in the early days of the conflict, which first broke out in 2003 when he and other non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

But he later sought refuge in Chad, which expelled him in May 2010 after a surprise rapprochement with Sudan, and he moved to Libya, whose then leader Moamer Kadhafi offered him sanctuary.

The war-torn region's other top rebel chiefs, Minni Minnawi and Abdelwahid Nur, are currently based in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

Analysts have warned that Ibrahim's return to Darfur last month is likely to escalate the violence in Darfur, which the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) says has dropped sharply so far this year, and could aggravate the fighting in Sudan's southern border region.

Ibrahim said even if there was a decline in violence in Darfur resulting from battles around populated areas, this was because some of the rebel factions had temporarily left the area, while alleging that the army's attacks continued.

"I warn you that the air force conducts flights all over Darfur on an almost daily basis, and they continue to target civilian locations at random."

"In the last few days, dozens of water wells have been destroyed and numerous farms burned and civilians killed in all three Darfur states, while government militias target women and children, and sexual violence and rape continue in the camps for displaced people."

Since Ibrahim's return, a new conflict has opened up on Sudan's border with the newly independent south, in Blue Nile state, between the army and opposition party turned rebel group the SPLM-North, which is also battling government troops in nearby South Kordofan.

The SPLM-North met leaders of the three main Darfuri rebel groups in early August, including a senior JEM representative, to form a new alliance aimed at bringing about regime change in Sudan through the use of force and popular uprising.

Ibrahim confirmed his movement has been fighting alongside the SPLM-North in South Kordofan and said they also had a presence in eastern Sudan, where a decade-long rebellion against Khartoum ended with a fragile peace agreement in 2006.

Asked why JEM refused to sign the Doha peace document with the government in July, despite being the only major armed group to attend the Qatar-brokered negotiations, the rebel leader said it did not tackle the "key disputed issues" or respond to the "urgent demands" of Darfuris.

The disputed issues he accused the government of failing to resolve include the imbalance of power and wealth in Sudan, impunity for those responsible for crimes in Darfur, and the problem of displaced people, refugees and nomads.

"The document did not put a limit on the excesses of the government, which violates fundamental freedoms and human rights," he added.

At least 300,000 people have been killed and 1.7 million remain displaced by the eight-year conflict in Darfur, according to the United Nations.

The government puts the death toll at 10,000 and blames the continuing lack of security on tribal conflict, minority armed forces and banditry.

In 2009, the International Criminal Court charged Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, with genocide added to the list the following year.