The Sudan Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
JEM and its Internal Conflict with Bashar’s Splinter Group
By: Abdullahi Osman El-Tom
May 15, 03: Last week’s armed confrontation between JEM and its splinter group of the late Mohamed Bashar has attracted wide attention in the international media. While some have deplored the conflict as yet another regrettable infighting among Darfur rival groups, others, like AU, UNAMID and Qatar, have seized this opportunity to incriminate JEM and re-ignite their enmity against the organization.
Bashar incident gave the AU/UNAMID a good opportunity to divert attention of the international community away from its spectacular failure to deliver its mandate: that is protection of Darfur civilians and IDPs. In a pathetic statement, the AU Commission Chief, Dlamini–Zuma described the incident as “cowardly” and appealed to GoS to cooperate with the AU in order to “bring perpetrators of this crime to justice”. Perplexingly, UNAMID wants to commission Al-Bashir’s junta to bring its newly discovered criminals to justice while it has adamantly refused to call the same people to submit to the ICC and hand over those have been indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and blatant breach of human Rights. Strangely enough, when Dr. Khalil was assassinated, UNAMID and its AU overseers went mute and did not see any reason for protestation. But now, protection of combatant has come easier for UNAMID than saving lives of Darfur IDPs who are unfortunate enough to be placed under its protection. Just 24 hours after the death of Mohamed Bashar and others (Sunday May 12th), the Janjaweed stormed Al-Salam IDP camp at Nyala. The Janjaweed looted the camp under the watchful eyes of UNAMID forces, and who are there to guard the habitation. The looters got away with everything they could take including 100 goats. IDP leader Sheikh Tabaldiya appealed to UNAMID for protection, protesting that in the last month alone the Janjaweed killed 14 and injured 27 IDPs at the camp. UNAMID’s response was as shameful as usual: “UNAMID cannot protect the camp because its forces are outnumbered by the Janjaweed but it will compile a report on the attack”. Thus, the mandate of UNAMID has been reduced to competing against Radio Dabanga for reporting such attacks, a contest in which the former is no match for the latter. Perhaps Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma is waiting to study the report before she can at least condemn Al-Salam attackers, never mind, she is willing to condemn JEM-Mainstream before any investigation. It is time UNAMID realises its primary mandate is to protect the IDPs, not the combatants of resistance movements. Barring that, JEM cannot see how UNAMID justifies support of Western taxpayers and get away with doing nothing but reporting on atrocities of the Khartoum government and its sponsored militias.
It is important to take note of the following facts before pontificating about the conflict. Rebellion of Mohamed Bashar within JEM was part of a series of squabbles and splits that almost crippled the organization. When Dr. Gibriel Ibrahim took over presidency of JEM, Mohamed Bashar was under detention, awaiting trial for his role in the attempted poisoning of Dr. Khalil Ibrahim. Arko Daihia who lost his life with Bashar and Ali Al-Wafi, now a captive among others, were also under JEM detention. They were senior members of JEM and were caught making unauthorized contacts with GoS and the Doha splinter group of Mohamed Bahar.
When Dr. Gibriel Ibrahim took over presidency of JEM, he opted to start with a clean slate and announced general amnesty for all JEM detainees. His pardon was so generous that it included even those JEM members who had committed the most heinous of all crimes: treason, a crime Bashar was facing.
For those who do not know how armed movements operate, we remind them JEM is an open organization. People are free to join and leave the organization at will and some current members of JEM have done so several times. However, there is a rule, well known to all, particularly to senior members like Bashar, Arko Dahiya and others. Those wishing to leave can do so under two conditions: a) hand over JEM properties- guns, vehicles, phones and b) cease using the name of JEM. They are free to establish or join any other organization as long as it is under a title other than JEM.
JEM splinters like Bashar and others did not respect the cardinal departure rule. In particular, Bashar and his group announced a rebellious move in JEM whereby they dismissed the President and his cabinet. Much more, his Chief of Staff, Dabajo stole and ran away with 27 armoured vehicles belonging to JEM. With further help and instructions from Deby of Chad, Bashar’s group became indistinguishable from Chad, so much that it is now referred to as JEM-Deby Branch. At the Doha negotiations, they masqueraded as mainstream JEM and announced several times they were the only JEM in the field.
JEM-Deby Branch could have spared us lots of agony, had they stayed away from us. That was not to be for the simple reason that both Deby and Al-Bashir wanted them to destroy JEM or at least distract its army away from Khartoum. The last attack on us was not the first. Few weeks ago, we had to defend ourselves against them near Umbaru, north Darfur. In the hostility, we were able to retrieve our own stolen weapons, perhaps a bit more, thanks to President Deby. The last lethal confrontation followed the same pattern, but let us separate the chaff from the grain. The incident in which Bashar lost his life was part of Deby’s grandiose plan to destroy JEM-Mainstream, exactly as he promised his financiers, Al-Bashir and the Emir of Qatar. Here are the details of the incident.
Bashar’s force crossed the border from Chad boasting anything between 130 to 200 fighters on 23 land cruisers and four ammunition and logistical trucks. The land cruisers were mounted with 221mm, 23mm and 12.5mm Artillery guns and Katusha and SPG-9 rocket launchers. The personnel were armed with JIM4 and RPG-7 rifles. Baffling as it was, the car driven by the late Mohamed Bashar also had around 50 shackles and it is a riddle to us what he was intending to do with them. Perhaps the shackles were reserved for senior JEM captives along the way.
The engagement took place few Kilometres inside the Sudan and away from Sudan-Chad border, which is heavily guarded by the Sudanese-Chadian Joint Force. The two JEM forces met inside the Sudan at Bamina (Lat 23’00, Lon 15’17; HIC Darfur Atlas), north of Tina. Political borders of African countries are messy but not in this case. The border town of Bamina is split by Tina valley in a north-south direction. Thus you have Chadian Bamina west of the valley and Sudanese Tina to the east of the valley. The battle took place four Kilometres east of the town, a location that is clearly in the Sudan.
Following brief exchange of heavy fire, Bashar’s group lost control and went into disarray. Most escaped but some surrendered, injured or killed. Mohamed Bashar, Arko Dahiya and few others were among the last category. JEM lost two soldiers while eight of its troops were injured in the battle.
Soon after the battle, it was realised that Mohamed Bashar was among the casualties. Had JEM been interested in sheer massacres of the invaders, it would have not spared the lives of the 20 or so who are now in its captivity. Most of those captives are members of JEM, yes, JEM-Mainstream and are subject to rules and regulations of the organisation. JEM will have to decide on the fate of other captives who have no connection with the Movement.
Osman Nahar, the spokesperson of Bashar’s splinter group has never been a member of JEM. According to our intelligence, Nahar and for that purpose also Adil Tayara are members of the National Intelligence Service of Sudan (NISS). To date, they are on the pay sheet of the NISS and whatever they report has to be seen within that context. Their primary allegiance is to the government of Khartoum and not to Darfur people and their movements, Bashar branch or otherwise. We urge media outlets to vet their sources before making any judgement.
Capitalising on the last strife within the organisation, some circles are now gathering force to indict JEM for obstruction of peace in Darfur. JEM is up to the challenge and will always be. As its history shows, JEM has been on the far front of peaceful solution of Darfur/Sudan problem. Let us not forget the Doha Platform and which is now turned into a negotiation circus owes its existence to JEM. JEM had also signed and implemented several peace accords with Khartoum. In every single case, the process was derailed or destroyed by the other party, not by JEM. JEM has not lost its stamina for non-violent resolution of the conflict, but only if it is comprehensive and compliant with justice, dignity and equal opportunity, and for all, irrespective of creed, ethnicity, region or faith. No more, no less.
Author is in Charge of Bureau for Strategic Planning of JEM. He can be contacted by email: Abdullahi.firstname.lastname@example.org