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Affecting the peace by sitting out talks

The World

As Sudan's other rebel leaders meet today to map strategy, Abdel Wahid will wield his clout a continent away.

August 03, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

"France can go to hell," he said loudly, provoking looks from nearby patrons in the cafe. "Sanctions are for criminals. Sanction Khartoum! I am not a criminal. I am fully committed to a cease-fire, I am fully committed to the peace process, but I am in exile and I am already sanctioned. My people are in camps -- those who are not are killed -- and the rest are raped and hopeless. They are already sanctioned."

He gesticulates in his passion and smacks a passerby, who apologizes to him.

"If I can't stay in Paris, I can go anywhere," he said.

So why not go back to Darfur?

He stands and hikes up his beige button-down shirt to display the splash of a bullet wound scar on his right side, and rolls up his left sleeve to show another on his arm.

"To make peace, I have to be alive, not dead. That is why I am here," he said, tapping the table. "But if I have to, I will go back to my people and die with them."

Some of the other SLM factions have split from Wahid, and are anxious for peace. They would like Wahid to represent them, but appear ready to leave him behind.

"Abdel Wahid feels threatened as a leader. He has lost ground," said Ahmed Idriss, a member of the newly formed SLM/Unity faction led by Abdulla Yahyia. "He would rather remain a big fish in a small pond than be a big fish in a big pond."

Because Wahid's chair in Arusha will probably remain empty, U.N. envoys have been scrambling to ensure that other Fur leaders with popular credibility will be there: Ahmed Abdelshafie, who replaced Wahid a year ago in Darfur, and Ahmed Diraige, a godfather of the rebel movement who now heads the National Redemption Front alliance.

Wahid asserts that his ideas have formed the basis of the peacemakers' blueprints, and he says he is the only one who can ensure the backing of the Fur and the people in the camps for any agreement. He will not be left out in the cold.

"Three things will not work with me. Pressure, persuasion, and isolation," he said. "I don't get my power from the international community, I get my power from my people." He paused and frowned. "If they try to make peace without me, I will sabotage everything."

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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