By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, July 13 A major Darfur rebel group threatened on Monday to pull out of discussions with Sudan's government if mediators insisted on inviting other insurgents to negotiate.
The threat from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) underlined the challenge facing mediators struggling to resolve an increasingly chaotic six-year conflict. Fighting units have splintered and numerous bandit gangs and rival tribes have added to the violence.
The last effort to stage Darfur peace talks, in Sirte, Libya in 2007, fell apart when JEM boycotted the proceedings, saying the event had become unwieldy and meaningless with the inclusion of too many small rebel and civilian groups.
JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim criticised joint U.N./African Union mediators on Monday for trying to pull in splinter factions into new negotiations and talking to individuals he said did not represent any real military power on the ground.
"JEM will never be part of these complications. We will never be part of this chaos. We will draw back from this issue," he told Reuters, speaking over satellite telephone.
"If people want to join peace talks, they can join JEM or the government group. There is no third party."
JEM was one of two main rebel groups which took up arms against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the remote western region.
It launched an unprecedented attack on Khartoum last year and has said it wants to take its liberation struggle beyond Darfur to the whole country.
The movement met Sudanese government representatives in Qatar in February, starting a series of troubled meetings that were supposed to pave the way to full peace negotiations.
Last month, U.N./AU mediator Djibril Bassole said he was planning to organise an additional "consultation session" between Sudan's government and other Darfur rebel groups, without naming the groups or the proposed venue.
Five Darfur rebel groups, including the United Resistance Front, led by a former JEM commander, and the Sudan Liberation Army's Unity faction, signed a statement in Libya in March saying they were ready to negotiate with Sudan's government.
No one was immediately available to comment on JEM's latest statement from Bassole's office or Sudan's government negotiating team.
Sudan's government mobilised troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the 2003 uprising in Darfur. Washington and activist groups accuse Khartoum of committing genocide during the conflict, a charge which Khartoum denies.
Estimates of the resulting death count range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)