Bashir’s Idea of Peace

NAIROBI: The attack by Sudanese armed forces or their allied militias on Muhajariya at the start of the week makes little sense at first glance. Why would President Bashir’s forces take on the Sudan Liberation Army of Minni Minnawi, the only rebel leader to sign last year’s Darfur Peace Agreement and now a partner in his government?

True, Minnawi and Bashir could hardly be described as close allies. In March their footsoldiers exchanged gunfire in the historic city of Omdurman, leaving 10 former rebels and three policemen dead.

But what was the motive behind the Muhajiriya offensive? Condemnation of the attack has been rapid. The medical charity MSF has also been forced to evacuate its staff from the town. Yet there has been little attempt to explain what is going on.

Is it an attempt to force Minnawi out of government and send him back to the bush? Is President Bashir attempting to fracture the rebel movement even further during the build up to talks in Libya later this month? Is he attempting to grab land before a settlement is reached?

The explanation offered by two of my contacts is rather less Machiavellian. Minnawi’s SLA were simply collateral damage in an offensive designed to restore security to one part of Darfur. The real target may have been the Maaliya, an Arab tribe who have sided with the rebels in the past.

Whatever the truth, there is a clear message for Bashir’s enemies as they debate whether to attend the Libyan peace talks. His idea of peace may be rather different to yours.

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