UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that failure during upcoming peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels could help push the situation in the Darfur region into utter chaos and lawlessness.
Annan told the Security Council on Monday that the situation in Darfur was deteriorating, with increased killings, rapes and forced evacuations. The secretary general's warning comes as the seventh round of peace talks are scheduled to begin in Nigeria on Monday.
But inside the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) there is a deep split that is putting the prospect of peace at risk.
This round of negotiations has already been postponed because of the division. "We want to negotiate with one group who can deliver on the peace agreement because it would be meaningless for us to agree with one party and another party is up in arms as to what has been agreed upon," said Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol.
Heading one faction of the SLM/A is political leader Abdul Wahid; military commander Minni Minnawi leads the other faction.
Wahid has spent most of the last two years outside Darfur. But as Minnawi's military successes grew, he stepped into the power vacuum and claimed leadership of the SLA/M earlier this month.
"The Sudanese Liberation Army is a unified movement. Abdul Wahid has no faction. He is now only a member of the movement," said Minnawi.
The split is along tribal lines and there are reports of fighting between the two factions.
Since the leadership breakdown, rebel troops have been accused of banditry, harassing aid workers, and attacking African Union peacekeepers.
Minnawi now controls most rebel troops and territory and Wahid's position is weak. Wahid says he is willing to bring Minnawi to the peace talks with him, but that offer's been ignored. "For us as a movement, we will make any joint position with anybody who is really for Darfur and Sudanese peace," said Wahid.
U.S. and African Union-backed reconciliation talks have so far failed and patience is wearing thin. "One of the most important assets for the SLM/A is the support of countries around the world," said Robert Zoellick, the U.S. deputy secretary of state. "But to maintain that support they're going to have to come up with a unified position."