Darfur rebel leader Abdelwahid Mohammed Nur on Tuesday hailed the independence vote under way in south Sudan though said he did not want secession for his own region but rather a united, secular north.
Nur, who leads a major faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, said it was vital for north Sudan to learn the lessons of the likely breakaway of the south and to reject plans by President Omar al-Bashir to impose Islamic sharia law in the event of partition.
"Our strategy at SLM ... now we struggle to remain a united North Sudan and the only way it can be done is with the implementation of the vision of the SLM, which is a
secular, democratic state with equal citizenship," Nur told AFP by telephone. "About this persecution, and genocide, and racism, and jihadism ... we have to learn from what happened in south Sudan, and we have to unite as Northern Sudanese people to stop all that. We are calling for a new beginning."
The imposition of a form of sharia law across Sudan in 1983 was the immediate trigger of the devastating civil war between north and south that ended with a 2005 peace deal which provided for this week's independence referendum.
Nur was one of the main leaders of the Darfur rebellion when it first broke out in 2003, drawing a scorched earth response that triggered an International Criminal Court warrant for Bashir's arrest on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Nur, who has lived in exile in France for the past four years, has spent the past few months in Africa consulting with other rebel factions.
"I am in Africa doing wide consultations with the SLM leadership and members of political forces, as well as Darfur people to reach real peace," he said, without specifying in which country.
Nur's faction has refused to join the on-off peace contacts that some other Darfur rebel factions have joined with Bashir's government.
"I appeal to all the international community ... to help us reach real peace, starting with security ... with a secular state and the end of 'Talibanistic' regime," he said.
Nur congratulated south Sudan on the week-long independence vote which began on Sunday.
"We, in the SLM/A are recognising in advance the result of the referendum," he said. "It is our goal that these two countries, north and south, live together with security, peace, stability and good neighbourhood relations, according to the interest of the countries."