Sudan rebel front vows unity after killing of top leader

JEM’s recent strength remains unclear

Anti-Sudan government forces in a "revolutionary front" pledged unity on Monday despite the killing of a top rebel, but an analyst dismissed their goal of toppling the Khartoum regime.
Three rebel factions which had formed an alliance with the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement said the death of JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim will not deter them from their mission to overthrow President Omar al-Bashir.
JEM on Sunday night announced the killing of Ibrahim, 54, saying he died in a government air strike on his camp.
The Sudanese army said Ibrahim was wounded on Thursday evening in a clash with government forces in Umm-Gozain, an area of North Kordofan state near North Darfur, and died on Saturday evening.
A JEM spokesman said he was killed early on Friday.
"We are very strong and we think that our alliance will not die," said Kadia Shimallia of the SPLM-N rebel group in Blue Nile state in Sudan's southeast.
He vowed they will work together, "to keep on this march towards Khartoum."
Ibrahim al-Hillu, of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction headed by Abdelwahid Nur, said his Darfur group will "stand by our brothers in the Justice and Equality Movement" and abide by all agreements signed with them.
"We are now joined together to fight to the last bullet to remove this government," said Hussain Minnawi, a leader of the SLA faction led by Minni Minnawi. "We will escalate the fighting later on."
The rebels say they are in a struggle for "democracy and civil rights" against an Arab-dominated regime unrepresentative of the country's political, ethnic and religious diversity.
When it confirmed Ibrahim's death, JEM also vowed to press on with its agenda for national reform.
In July, the government signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur with an alliance of rebel splinter factions, but JEM and the two SLA groups did not join the pact.
Instead, last month they and the SPLM-N ratified documents forming the new Sudanese Revolutionary Front dedicated to "popular uprising and armed rebellion" against the National Congress Party government in Khartoum.
"It's just a name," said Magdi Gazouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy group.
"There are no joint operations," although the rebel groups work together politically, Gazouli said.
"They will not be able to defeat Khartoum. That's obvious."
Instead, the objective of the allied groups is to get a better bargaining position with the central government, he added.
Gazouli said JEM was the largest Darfur rebel group, with Ibrahim as the "ideological and organisational engine" of a "highly disciplined" force.
"Without him it is possible that the JEM might not survive as a single unit" and could disintegrate into smaller bandit forces posing a threat to internal and external trade, the analyst said.
"If it fragments, it will be very difficult to negotiate with these guys."
On Saturday the official news agency SUNA reported the military was combing the North Kordofan-North Darfur region after JEM "attacked civilians" and targeted local leaders while looting their property in the Umm-Gozain, Goz Abyadh and Aramal areas.
JEM announced on Thursday that its forces had advanced into North Kordofan and were heading eastward towards Khartoum on a mission to topple Bashir's regime.
Ibrahim's JEM was the most heavily armed group in the Darfur region, although its recent strength remains unclear.
He was a key player in the early days of the Darfur conflict which erupted in 2003 between non-Arab rebels and the central government.
In October, Ibrahim said he had "returned to my country to fight for the rights of the people in all regions of Sudan," after seeking refuge in Chad and then Libya.
According to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, while the Khartoum 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.
Six people including Bashir are being sought or are before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes in Darfur.