After controversial referendum, Sudan declares Darfur conflict over

Sunday 24/04/2016
Rebel groups consider referendum as ‘unfair’

KHARTOUM - Sudan said on Tuesday the result of a referendum in Darfur shows that the conflict in the war-torn region that has killed tens of thousands of people is finally over.

On Saturday, officials announced that almost 98 percent of Darfur voters had opted to keep the region as five states in a referendum that was boycotted by the opposition and criticised internationally.

The vote on whether to unite Darfur into a single autonomous region was held over three days between April 11 and 13.

"The page on the Darfur crisis has now been turned," Amin Hassan Omar, the official in charge of the Darfur file in President Omar al-Bashir's government, told reporters at a press conference in Khartoum.

"Now we need to deal with the after-effects of this crisis."

In 2003, ethnic minority rebels in Darfur mounted an insurgency against the Arab-dominated government of Bashir -- who is wanted for alleged war crimes in the conflict -- complaining of economic and political marginalisation.

More than 2.5 million people displaced by the conflict live in the vast region of western Sudan, and according to United Nations figures 300,000 have been killed in the conflict.

A united Darfur with greater autonomy has long been a demand of ethnic minority insurgents battling Khartoum, but rebel groups boycotted the referendum, calling it unfair.

Bashir, whose ruling National Congress Party supports the five-state system, had insisted that the ballot go ahead as stipulated in a 2011 peace agreement signed with some rebel groups.

Darfur was a single region until 1994 when the government split it into three states, and later added another two in 2012, claiming it would make local government more efficient.

On Tuesday, Omar blamed the rebels for the unrest.

"The rebel groups didn't want peace. They want war," he said, adding that the government now plans to collect weapons that are widespread in the region.

"We will first collect heavy weapons which are in the hands of outlaws," Omar said, adding that some of these "outlaws had ties" with the country's security apparatuses.

Since 2003, parts of Darfur have been further destabilised by conflicts between the region's myriad ethnic and tribal groups, as well as by rising crime levels.