Rebels from Sudan’s Darfur region have begun moving towards the capital Khartoum, their spokesman said Thursday, more than three years after they made an unprecedented attack on the capital.
“Now our troops are moving from Darfur in an easterly direction towards the capital Khartoum,” Gibril Adam Bilal, of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), told AFP from London.
“Our main fight with this government has already started.”
Sudan’s army spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Bilal said JEM had reached En Nahud, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Darfur in North Kordofan state, on a mission to change the regime led by President Omar al-Bashir.
In 2008 more than 222 people were killed when JEM guerrillas drove about 1,000 kilometres across the desert to Omdurman, just over the River Nile from the presidential palace on the Khartoum side.
Government troops repulsed them after heavy clashes and later sentenced dozens of rebels to death for their role in the assault.
“We are calling for all the political and military movements who are struggling against this government to work together to change this regime,” Bilal said.
In a separate statement, JEM quoted a junior Sudanese army officer as saying he and “a number of soldiers” had defected to the rebels with their weapons on Tuesday.
Sudan’s army spokesman, quoted by the official SUNA news agency, said it was “completely incorrect” that soldiers other than the officer had joined the rebels.
He said the officer had fled a 10-year jail sentence issued by a military court for financial crimes.
In July the government signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur with the Liberation and Justice Movement, an alliance of rebel splinter factions.
Darfur’s main armed groups, JEM and factions of the Sudan Liberation Army headed by Minni Minnawi and Abdelwahid Nur, did not sign the deal.
Instead, last month they, along with the SPLM-North rebel group, ratified documents forming the new Sudanese Revolutionary Front dedicated to “popular uprising and armed rebellion” against the National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.
On Sunday the head of the joint African Union-United Nations Mission to Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, told AFP the new rebel alliance means the door is closing for more groups to join Darfur’s peace process.
According to the UN at least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003 when fighting broke out between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime.
The government puts the death toll at 10,000.
UN officials say 1.9 million people are internally displaced and still living in camps in Darfur, with about 80,000 newly displaced by fighting this year.
JEM has previously carried out a number of high-profile attacks in Sudan, including raids on Chinese-run oil fields.
Six people including President Bashir are being sought or are before the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region.