Libya pledges strong ties with Sudan as border closes

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Sudan’s decision to close its borders with Libya took effect on Thursday. Khartoum is seeking the expulsion of rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim, who heads the Movement for Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest armed group in Darfur. Western Sudan has been gripped by civil war since 2003.

The situation in the western province of Darfur, which shares its border with Libya, is at the root of Sudan’s decision to close its border, as of Thursday 1 July, with Libya.

According to the Sudanese Interior Ministry, vehicles plying roads in the border area have become subject “to threats and attacks from rebels and outlaws who commit robberies and extortion”.

But although security reasons have been evoked to explain the closure, Khartoum’s displeasure over Libya’s habouring of Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel leader, Khalil Ibrahim, cannot be overlooked.

An official source from Libya’s Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation Monday told the North African country’s JANA News Agency that the Libyan government “fully understands Sudan’s decision to close its land borders and crossing points linking the two sisterly countries for reasons known to all” especially at a time when “Darfur problems are still continuing”.

JEM spokesperson, Ahmed Hussein Adam told AFP that Khalil “Ibrahim is in Libya and will remain there until he completes talks over the future of Darfur and Sudan”. Khalil Ibrahim is, according to Hussein, holding talks with the Libyan leader, Kadhafi.

The Libyan Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation official further said that “Brothers in Sudan know very well that Sudan will not get any harm on the part of great Jamahiriya (Libya); for we are brothers and cooperation between us is going on very well”.

Sudanese authorities requested that Libya expel the rebel leader and force him to return to the negotiating table, after the JEM leader withdrew from peace talks in Doha in May, leading to worsening of the security situation in Darfur, where rebels and government forces have been clashing since 2003.

Chad, which also shares border with both Libya and Sudan, has refused to grant asylum to Khalil Ibrahim.

In 2008, the Darfur rebel group took its fight to the heart of the country, where government reports said more than 200 people were killed an attack. The UN estimated that about 300,000 people died in the worst years of the Darfuri conflict. Some 2.5 million people are still displaced.

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