Sudan says it is closing borders with Libya to protect travellers and traders from attacks by rebels, a likely reference to Darfur insurgents who have taken refuge in Tripoli.
Sudan planned to block land crossings from July 1, said a statement on the Interior Ministry’s website which did not give details on the identity of the potential attackers.
The announcement comes a day after Sudan said it had called on Libya to expel the leader of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Khalil Ibrahim, accusing him of making statements undermining peace efforts in Darfur and threatening attacks on Khartoum.
If Libya agrees to Sudan’s request, one possible exit route for Ibrahim and his followers would be an overland trek across Libya’s border, straight into the northwestern tip of Sudan’s Darfur region.
Chad, on Libya’s southern border, has already refused to take the JEM leader and any offer of a new home in Egypt could spark a diplomatic rift between Khartoum and Cairo.
JEM forces have been involved in clashes with Sudan’s army inside Darfur since the rebel group suspended its participation in peace talks in early May. In May 2008, JEM forces travelled hundreds of miles from north Darfur to launch an unprecedented attack on the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman.
“The (border) crossing is under threats and aggression by rebels and outlaws, who rob and impose taxes and fees, levied illegally that often jeopardise the lives and property of others,” an Interior Ministry official was quoted as saying on the website.
A ministry spokesperson had no other details and none was immediately available to comment from JEM.
JEM’s leader has been staying in Libya since May when authorities in neighbouring Chad stopped him at their capital’s airport and said he could not pass through their territory to return to the battlefield in Darfur.
JEM has long had strong ethnic and political links with Chad’s leadership but those were severed at the end of last year following a rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena.
Ibrahim has given a number of media interviews from Libya, repeating his movement’s threats to attack Sudanese cities, including Khartoum, and deriding ongoing peace talks between Sudan’s government and other rebel groups.
JEM was one of two Darfur rebel groups that took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003 accusing it of neglecting the mostly desert territory.
Pic: JEM leader- Khalil Ibrahim