DOHA — Darfur's main rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, warned on Monday its forces would return to an armed struggle if talks with the Sudanese government hit a dead end.
"We are still negotiating, and if the government is serious about wanting to achieve peace, then we are ready," JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told reporters in the Qatari capital Doha.
"But if peace is not reached, our position is known, and our aim is to change the regime of (Sudanese President Omar) al-Beshir. It is either a fair and comprehensive peace or we carry on with our regime change project," he added.
In February, Ibrahim and Beshir signed a framework peace accord in Doha that the international community hailed as a major step towards bringing peace to Darfur after seven devastating years of war in the western Sudanese region.
Ibrahim said on Monday that the ceasefire had been "violated several times," and that the Sudanese government was "preparing military reinforcements and getting ready for war not peace."
But he still voiced his group's commitment to the agreement, stressing "peace remains until now our strategic choice."
Chief Sudanese peace negotiator Amin Hasan Omar said Sunday that JEM was "not serious" about reaching a final settlement, and accused the rebel group of violating the ceasefire and failing to fulfill a promise to free prisoners.
But talks between Khartoum and JEM have since run into trouble and a deadline set under the accord for completing the peace deal passed on March 15 without agreement.
Shortly afterwards, the Khartoum government signed a framework peace deal in Doha with the Liberation and Justice Movement, another rebel group that forms an alliance of splinter factions.
"JEM wants to control Darfur, as well as (the central region of) Kordofan and Khartoum," said Omar.
According to sources in Chad, JEM is prepared to tone down its demands in return for a delay to Sudan's national multi-party elections due to be held on April 11-13.
Khalil on Monday denied reports that JEM had demanded a five-year delay for the polls, insisting that the request was to postpone them "until people get ready."
"We have linked the elections to peace, be it after a month or several months... Elections will hamper peace and the return of displaced people," he said.
The Khartoum government has said there is no reason to postpone the presidential, legislative and local elections, despite calls from Western observers and opposition parties for a delay.
The polls would be the first multi-party elections in Sudan for about a quarter of a century and a key milestone in the implementation of the 2005 north-south peace agreement.
The conflict between Darfur rebels and the Khartoum government has killed about 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.
One key rebel group -- the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Abdelwahid Nur -- has so far refused to have any negotiations with the government and earlier this month engaged in fierce clashes with the army on the Jebel Marra plateau in the heart of Darfur.
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