Sudan Severs Ties With Chad, Blaming It for Attack on Capital

Security forces patrol near a burned-out truck in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, where rebels struck Saturday.
Security forces patrol near a burned-out truck in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, where rebels struck Saturday. (By Abd Raouf -- Associated Press)
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 12, 2008

NAIROBI, May 11 -- Sudan cut diplomatic ties with Chad on Sunday after accusing its neighbor of backing an audacious rebel attack on the Sudanese capital.

Sudanese officials claimed to have crushed the assault on Khartoum by a Darfur rebel group known as the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, which crossed hundreds of miles of desert in armored pickups and struck the Omdurman suburb of the capital Saturday.

On Sunday morning, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, appearing on state-run television in military fatigues, said the rebels had been "totally destroyed."

"These forces come from Chad, who trained them," Bashir said, according to the Reuters news agency. "We hold the Chadian regime fully responsible for what happened. We have no choice but to sever relations."

[Sudanese security forces on Monday arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi and at least four other top members of his opposition Popular Congress Party, Turabi aides told Reuters. Turabi, a onetime ally of Bashir who has been linked to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim, had vowed Saturday to stand against any attempted overthrow of the Bashir regime, the London-based newspaper al-Hayat reported Sunday.]

Analysts say there were several layers of interests at work in the Saturday attack, which is likely to alter the already tangled process of reaching a settlement to end the crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region. There, the government and a militia known as the Janjaweed have waged a five-year campaign of violence against civilians and numerous rebel groups.

First, there is the Chadian factor. The strike by JEM, a rebel group known to have the backing of Chad and Libya, was likely to have been payback by the Chadian government, which accused Sudan of backing rebels in a similarly audacious -- and similarly crushed -- attack on the Chadian capital of N'Djamena earlier this year.

Bashir and Chadian President Idriss D├ęby have a history of trying to destabilize each other's countries, and JEM leaders move freely across the Chadian border into Sudan.

There is also the question of JEM's motives. Though rebel leaders said the strike was an attempt to topple a government that has brutalized Darfurians for years, some analysts said it was more likely aimed at pushing Sudanese officials to negotiate directly with the group.

JEM is the fiercest fighting force of all the Darfur rebel factions, which have become increasingly fragmented in the past two years, seemingly unable to unify their political and military structures.

"The fighting in Omdurman represents a gambit by JEM to position itself to negotiate directly with Sudan's ruling party, cutting the other Darfur factions out," said John Prendergast, co-chairman of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. "It is a power grab that goes beyond the Darfur-specific agenda."

Libya is the wild card factor, he said, noting that the North African country, which historically has had rocky relations with Sudan, may be avenging a series of perceived slights by Sudan in recent months.

The assault was "a perfect confluence of interest among JEM, Libya and Chad," Prendergast said.

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