05/11/2008 04:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thoughts on Yesterday's Rebel Attempt to Topple Khartoum

In recent weeks there has been an alarming spike in the violence in Darfur with government bombings in north Darfur where a school and marketplace were attacked leaving more than a dozen civilian dead and many more wounded. Among the those killed were 6 school children. The international community was further outraged when the government refused to permit UN aircraft to transport the wounded to a medical facility. After nearly 2 days, the seriously wounded children, including a little girl with a broken back were put in a car and driven about 8 hours over rough roads to an MSF clinic.

This week the rebel group JEM led by Khalil Ibrahim left the remote Darfur region -- moving in a convoy of some 700 vehicles from the Chad borderland toward the capital itself. That they actually reached the suburb area of Omdurman -- just across the Nile bridge from Khartoum is unprecedented and remarkable. No casualties have been announced yet but terrified residents reported heavy artillery fire. In the capital a curfew was imposed, and residents were ordered to remain indoors while armored vehicles and helicopters headed for Omdurman.

The Government of Sudan claim their army has defeated the rebels and accuses Chadian President Idris Deby of backing the coup attempt, an accusation Deby denies.

I am struggling to understand this -- and its possible consequences. I find it baffling that JEM attempted this assault which they could not possibly have pulled off without massive, spontaneous backing from within -- which did not happen. When the best hope for peace in Darfur ultimately lies at a conference table, it is dispiriting but not surprising to read that government officials are now saying they will refuse to negotiate with any representative from the JEM. It would seem that this latest development has pushed the possibilities for a peace process even further from the table.

On the other hand -- since there is no peace process on the horizon, perhaps this could actually stimulate the calls for a political process.