GENEVA – The head of Darfur's most powerful rebel group said Friday that peace talks with the Sudanese government were suspended until the 13 foreign aid groups expelled from Darfur were allowed to resume their work.
Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, also urged the people of Darfur to fight against the government and not accept any humanitarian help that comes from Khartoum.
"We're suspending peace talks, and we're not returning to peace talks until they change the situation," Ibrahim said.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled 13 large international aid agencies from Darfur after an international court issued an arrest warrant against him earlier this month for war crimes in the western region. Al-Bashir has rejected the charges and accused the aid groups of cooperating with the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court.
The arrest warrant came just weeks after JEM and the government agreed to launch negotiations on ending the six-year conflict in Darfur, though they failed during a week of talks to seal a cease-fire or lure other rebel groups into the process. The two had agreed to hold further negotiations in the Gulf state of Qatar this month, aiming to reach a peace deal in three months.
Many, including the African Union and Arab governments, have warned that the arrest warrant could torpedo those talks.
"We're not going to Doha until al-Bashir renounces his decision to expel the 13 aid groups because this government has no capacity" to provide for the people of Darfur, Ibrahim said. He said the government has created a "catastrophic situation on the ground."
Ibrahim called on people to fight the government, saying Darfurians should not wait for "government help or international help. They should help themselves."
The Khartoum government did not immediately comment on JEM's decision to suspend the Doha, Qatar talks.
The war in Darfur began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government complaining of discrimination and neglect. Attempts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table or to broker cease-fires have failed, and so far up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes, according to U.N. officials.