, KHARTOUM, Jan 1 – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir appealed on Saturday for rebel groups to join a peace process with the government but vowed that those who forcibly resist will face the might of the state.
He spoke at a ceremony for Sudan’s 56th Independence Day on Sunday, just over a week after government forces said they killed Khalil Ibrahim, who led the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the region’s most heavily armed group.
Bashir said Ibrahim had received “his sentence” but that anyone else who came to the government in peace would “find our doors open and our hearts also.”
“We are open, in peace, to anyone who does not depend on foreigners,” he told officials, diplomats and other guests, including Gaza’s Hamas premier Ismail Haniya, who has been on an official visit to Sudan since Tuesday as part of a regional tour.
“Any group or movement that tries to use weapons against the government, I want them to know: They are not more powerful than the state,” Bashir said at the presidential palace.
Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur, in Sudan’s west.
JEM announced on December 25 that Ibrahim had been killed by an air strike two days earlier.
Sudan’s military said the rebel chief was wounded and died later from a clash with Khartoum’s troops in Umm-Gozain, an area of North Kordofan state near North Darfur.
His killing has created uncertainty as to the future of JEM, which in November formed with other rebel groups the new Sudanese Revolutionary Front dedicated to “popular uprising and armed rebellion” against the National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.
Factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) of Darfur, headed by Minni Minnawi and Abdelwahid Nur, also joined the alliance, along with the SPLM-North rebel group, which operates elsewhere in Sudan.
SLA and JEM refused to sign in July the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, which Khartoum inked in Qatar with an alliance of rebel splinter factions, the Liberation and Justice Movement.
The head of the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur said on Friday that increased insecurity in the region has restricted peacekeepers’ ability to work.
“Our ability to monitor and respond has… been restricted in the past few days due to the heightened insecurity in parts of North and South Darfur,” said Ibrahim Gambari, who leads UNAMID, the joint African Union-United Nations mission to the region.
He repeated a call for all groups to join the Darfur peace process.