Minni Arkou Minawi suddenly appears wearing a pinstriped suit. The leader of a powerful wing of the Sudan Liberation Army, who normally wears the grayish-blue dungarees of a bush fighter, is sitting in a tailored suit in the lobby of the Novotel in the Chadian capital N'Djamena. Minawi, accompanied by a general from Chad, is drinking a Coke through a straw.
He's surrounded by a group of fellow fighters, also dressed to the nines, together with influential benefactors lounging in rattan chairs. Cuban music drifts from the well-stocked hotel bar into the air-conditioned lobby, where it's a cool 68°F.
Minawi seems a tad insecure in this sophisticated hotel environment. He constantly taps his fingers on the arm of his chair, his restless gaze jumping from one corner of the room to the next, from a group of French navy infantrymen in their desert shorts to four Finnish businessmen playing cards.
Minawi is about to attend a meeting with the president of Chad, Idriss Déby. Déby is a moody man, nicknamed the "one-man Mafia" by one Western diplomat. According to statistics compiled by Transparency International, an organization dedicated to fighting corruption worldwide, Chad is the most corrupt country on earth, and Déby himself is its undisputed king of thieves.
The president summoned Minawi to N'Djamena to explain to him why the rebel leader signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in Nigeria a few days ago. Since then, two different camps have called Minawi a peacemaker or a traitor, depending on their respective points of view.
The first camp consists of those with offices at the European Union in Brussels, the United Nations in New York and the State Department in Washington. The second group consists of refugees living in giant, dusty camps in the border region between Chad and Sudan and in rebel camps in Darfur, as well as Minawi's allies until recently, Eritrea and Chad.
Rebels in Sudan's Darfur province have been battling the government in Khartoum for many years. They're waging a desperate guerilla war against a battle-hardened, unscrupulous regime that uses tribal conflicts and Arab racism to further its cause. One of the Sudanese regime's most notorious tactics has been to arm murderous Arab bands traveling on horseback, the so-called "Janjaweed," using them to unleash a desert storm that has reached new heights of gruesomeness.
The rebels have fought back against the government's more powerful forces, capturing a broad swathe of the country. Nevertheless, they are wedged in between regions settled by Arabs and the border with Chad, Sudan's western neighbor.
Without support from Chad, which serves as a base for reinforcements, Minawi's group would be finished militarily. Minawi doesn't know whether Chadian dictator Déby is especially pleased over his recent agreement with the Khartoum regime, because Chad itself is in a de facto state of war with Sudan.
This presents the rebel leader with a dilemma. He could become easy prey for his rivals in the resistance movement. For a time there were only two groups leading the rebellion against Khartoum, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Although both groups are fighting for more rights for blacks in western Sudan, the members of JEM are also devout Muslims, many having been active in Islamist parties in the past. But another, far more dangerous potential breaking point exists on the rebel front. Many in Darfur's black population belong to the tribe of the Fur, which lends it name to the region. But Darfur is also home to the Massalit tribe and the Saghawa, of which Minawi is a member.
For many years, Abd al-Wahid Mohammed, a Fur, was the sole leader of the SLA. A jovial, well-fed man who spends most of his time in Nairobi, Minawi eventually grew tired of being under the command of a generally absent Fur and decided to form his own group.
A war within a war?
As if this division wasn't enough, there was another split within the Liberation Army when the rebels began negotiating with the Khartoum government in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. Chamis Abdullah Abakr, a Massalit, together with a group of 18 other leaders, then left the old SLA and has headed his own, separate rebel group ever since. Minawi was the only rebel leader who signed the peace treaty in Abuja. Rather than peace, the document could in fact bring quite the opposite to the region, a fratricidal war among the black Africans in Darfur, a war within a war that was previously merely a conflict with Arabs.
Minawi says that he signed the treaty because he wants dialogue, and "because the people from the refugee camps finally want to return home, and because the bloodshed on both sides must end." He may have made himself the West's darling, at least for now, but at home he has lost the trust of his own people, who feel sold out. In the brutal reality of life in the desert, this sort of condemnation can amount to a death sentence.
The negotiations in Abuja took months. They began in October 2005. Each of the three rebel groups sent a delegation of more than 30 members, bringing the initial rebel faction at the negotiating table to about 100 people. They spent endless hours in discussion, had their prepared documents translated into a multitude of languages and engaged in plenty of heated debate. But most of the time they sat around in their baggy white Gallabijas, drinking sweetened tea at the Chida International Hotel. A room at the Chida goes for $120-300, and the luxury hotel also features a cocktail bar and a massage room. The rebels were clearly in no hurry to leave.
But the Americans wanted -- and needed -- to see these negotiations succeed. The United States Congress attached the term genocide to the slaughter in Darfur back in July 2004.
And Minawi isn't the only rebel leader putting in an appearance at N'Djamena's Novotel hotel these days. Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the JEM, has just arrived in his chauffeur-driven, sparkling Toyota Land Cruiser. Two combat soldiers wielding Kalashnikovs jump down from the vehicle and tear open the door for their captain.
Nourain Minawi, who wears Mao jackets and black leather slips, usually accompanies Ibrahim. An educated man with degrees in anthropology and sociology, Minawi is Ibrahim's advisor and spokesman, and he too was present at the talks in Abuja.
He doesn't believe the Abuja agreement encourages peace. On the contrary, he says, "We're ready to fight. We do not respect the Darfur Peace Agreement. It's quite possible that the fighting will really escalate, now that Minawi has changed sides." Indeed, Minawi predicts a widening of the war, saying that "we will call upon our people in eastern Sudan to take up arms."
Minawi believes the negotiations in Nigeria were a farce. The outcome, he says, only reflects Khartoum's position, adding that many of the rebels' demands, including the insistence on providing compensation to the victims of the war, were ignored. "Under the peace agreement, we are to receive only one ministerial position in Khartoum instead of the three we asked for, only 12 seats in a parliament consisting of 450 members, and we're being denied the position of a vice president of Sudan," Minawi complains. "This agreement isn't worth the 120 pages it's written on."
The endless negotiations in Abuja eventually began to wear on the participants' nerves. People were still dying in Darfur, where the next rainy season was just around the corner. International aid organizations were complaining that they were receiving less and less support to care for a constantly growing refugee population. Clearly time was running out, and yet the SLA rebels, many with no education, had little political -- not to mention negotiating -- experience.
A scene out of a B movie
At some point the crisis managers flown in for the negotiations by the United Nations, the African and European Unions and the governments of the United States and Great Britain decided to take things into their own hands. "Why don't you take a break," they told the rebels, and disappeared into their offices. After 15 days they reemerged with a long document they had prepared, gave the rebels one day to consider the draft agreement and then demanded their approval.
But the other side was unwilling to sign. "What about compensation for our people?" the Sudanese government negotiators wanted to know. They were also unwilling to give up their weapons.
US negotiator and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had finally had enough. "He started waving his arms in the air and yelling," says the Justice and Equality Movement's Minawi. According to Minawi, Zoellick repeatedly shouted: "You'll be hauled before a war crimes tribunal if you don't sign."
The scene had something of the quality of a B movie. One by one, the leaders of the various factions were summoned into a room by representatives of the African Union. "Will you sign?" a man from the African Union would say. "No," Abd al-Wahid al-Nur responded, on behalf of the Fur, saying that he would first have to consult with his advisors. Chamis Abdullah Abakr, the Massalit leader, also refused to sign. And Khalil Ibrahim, the man from the JEM, said that the agreement was unacceptable because it represented "Khartoum's position." Minni Arkou Minawi was the only rebel leader to sign the document. In return, he was apparently promised that his name would be removed from the list of war criminals.
Minawi signed the agreement with Khartoum on May 5 -- the same day that his brother, Yussuf Arkou Minawi, was shot dead by government troops in the town of Labado in southern Darfur.
Minawi's solo effort has struck a sour note with the other rebels, including Massalit leader Chamis Abdullah Abakr's men. Some of them are sitting in the shade of a dusty veranda in N'Djamena, drinking tea. It's close to 104°F, and as the desert wind drives sand across the veranda, the men discuss the war.
"If Minawi's people allow themselves to be integrated into Khartoum's army, as stated in the agreement, and fight against us, there will be a civil war among the blacks in Darfur," says Adam Ali Shugar, the group's self-appointed spokesman. "Minawi has turned into a black Janjaweed." Shugar also has little faith in the Sudanese government's ability to disarm the Janjaweed. "The tiger is out of the cage, and he won't return voluntarily," he says.
It has long been believed that rebel leader Minawi's name is on the International War Crimes Tribunal's list of war criminals. He is said to be responsible for the murders of intellectuals and of having tortured one of his own tribal kings in May 2004. "He tied together his hands and feet and then had him hung upside down from a tree. The king was kept up there until he was dead," says Shugar. "And that was no isolated incident. Minawi knew full well why he was signing the agreement."
Next page: a tinderbox
David Mozerky's office is in a gleaming white office complex on Nairobi's busy Lenana Road. Mozerky is a Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group and possibly the most accurate chronicler of the disintegration of the Sudanese state.
"If we're not careful, the entire country will blow up in our face," he says. "The bloodshed in Darfur is already expanding into a war with neighboring Chad. And in the East we're concerned about the rebels from the Eastern Front staging a rebellion."
Developments in Sudan are beginning to take on a form that's characteristic of many earlier wars elsewhere on the continent. Fighting initially revolves around recognizable political goals, such as access to land or resources, but then the conflict becomes increasingly splintered. Rebel groups split up and local warlords begin fighting for their own account and in their own interest. The war turns into a purpose unto itself, with peaceful resolution becoming an ever more distant goal.
Sudan's south presents a textbook example. Although the rebels of the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) signed a peace treaty with the government in Khartoum in January 2005, the fighting continues among various militia groups.
Meanwhile, corruption and mismanagement are on the rise in the region. Secession and the rise of a new African dictatorship seems to be in the cards for this region of southern Sudan. The South, whose representatives currently form part of the government in Khartoum, is just as unlikely to help resolve the Darfur crisis as are the countries of the African Union.
Because of the African Union's ineffectiveness, US President George W. Bush has been demanding for weeks now that its mandate be transferred to the United Nations, so that UN peacekeepers can finally put an end to the massacres and ensure that international aid is able to reach the population. The man in charge at the White House has recognized that this is an impossible task, and that it would require "NATO administration" and "probably twice the number of peacekeepers."
But even that wouldn't put a stop to the suffering. Germany's Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action) is concerned that by November the entire country could face "a severe famine."
But the capital faces an entirely different set of worries. Bush's decision to bring NATO into the discussion, has prompted Khartoum's Islamists to suddenly spring back onto the scene. Darfur will become a "cemetery for the imperialists," says President Omar el-Bashir, who has called for mass demonstrations against the possible deployment of troops under the UN umbrella. The leader of the country's national youth trade union has even announced that his supporters are ready for jihad. A few thousand hardliners, trucked in by the government, occasionally hold demonstrations in front of the presidential palace, waving signs that read: "Death to the foreign soldiers."
It also didn't take global terrorist Osama bin Laden long to issue yet another taped message from his hiding place, calling on Muslims to wage a holy war for Sudan. "All mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and on the Arabian Peninsula," should prepare for a long war against the "plundering crusaders in western Sudan," he recently announced in a message broadcast on Arab network Al-Jazeera.
Preparing for the next phase of conflict
Lam Akol was also a rebel once. He has fought the Arabs with the SPLA, but he has also thrown in his lot with government forces. But life has never been as good to Akol as it is today. Sudan's foreign minister since the peace treaty between the North and the South came into effect, his conclusions are nothing short of amazing. Everything, he says, is going according to plan in his realm. Even in Darfur.
The rebels themselves are to blame for violations of the cease-fire in Darfur, he claims. The UN, he adds, will never be allowed into the country, nor will Darfur's inhabitants achieve their own, independent state. Things sounded a little different not too long ago, when the SPLA was urging "its brothers" to wage war against the Arabs, arranging weapons shipments from the South and sending its own soldiers to fight in Darfur. But today southern Sudan's only concern seems to be its own independence, while its leaders are primarily looking to maximize their profits.
Meanwhile, the factions in Darfur are preparing for the next phase of the conflict. The rebel groups that were unable to come to terms with Khartoum are looking for new recruits to beef up their ranks -- and the giant refugee camps just across the border in Chad present an ideal recruiting ground for new combatants.
Bredjing is one of those camps. Only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border, the camp sits in the middle of one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The once-white tents of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have long since become coated with a fine layer of sand. To shield themselves against the unforgiving desert wind, Bredjing's inhabitants have built makeshift enclosures of dried grass and brush, plastic tarps and cardboard boxes.
Mohammed Djuma Mohammed, a village teacher and one of the displaced, has been living in the camp in Chad for the past two years.
On March 18, as he walks his customary route to the schoolyard, a group of young men suddenly block his path. They say that they're from the SLA and that Mohammed is under arrest. They take him to a collection point where more than 200 other men are already cowering on the ground, kept in check by six guards. Two are carrying pistols, while the others wield clubs.
Finally the entire group begins to walk. After an eight-hour forced march, the group arrives in the town of Arkum. Within a short period of time, this method produces 3,716 young recruits. They're counted twice a day, are given meager rations of porridge and are routinely beaten. But the men spend most of their time in training: crawling across the ground, running, standing at attention. At some point they finally realize what their new surroundings mean. "You are now soldiers of the SLA," they're told, "and your commander is Chamis Abdullah Abakr."
But what the new recruits don't know is that Massalit leader Abakr has only recently split off from the rest of the SLA. They're unaware of the fraternal feud among blacks and of the fact that the war against the Arabs has long since morphed into the region's next conflict. But they are terrified. Whenever one of them tries to escape the horrors of the camp, the guards, wielding clubs, quickly drive him back in. The man is thrown into a hole in the ground filled with thorny brush. His screams are heard throughout the night.
Village teacher Mohammed is one of the lucky ones. He and two other men manage to escape the rebel camp after 10 days and return to the Bredjing refugee camp. But their lives are now filled with fear, and they quickly hide whenever even the most harmless pickups rush through the camp, stirring up clouds of dust.
The horror of war has come to Bredjing, but this time it isn't in the form of the apocalyptic mounted militias, the Janjaweed. This time the threat comes from those who claim to be waging war on behalf of those suffering in Darfur.
The Darfur conflict has developed into a war in which everyone is fighting against everyone else. "And this new slaughter," says the "Refugee President" of Bredjing, Jamal al-Din Daud, "has just begun."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan