Sudan votes in Darfur referendum as rebels boycott

Sudan votes in Darfur referendum as rebels boycott
Polling stations across Sudan's Darfur opened on Monday for a vote on its five states, despite a boycott by rebels and international criticism.
2 min read
11 April, 2016
Polls opened across Sudan's conflict-hit Darfur on Monday [AFP]

Polls opened across Sudan's conflict-hit Darfur on Monday in a referendum on whether to keep its five states or unite them into a single region - despite rebels boycotting and international criticism over the vote.

Voting started just after 9:00am (0600GMT), an AFP correspondent said.

Ethnic minority rebels in Darfur have been battling forces loyal to President Omar al-Bashir - wanted for alleged war crimes in the region - over claims his Arab-dominated government was marginalising them.

Rebels have long demanded a single region, but say the vote cannot be free and fair due to ongoing unrest.

Heavy fighting in the Marra mountains at the centre of Darfur has forced at least 138,000 people to flee their homes since mid-January, UN peace keeping chief Herve Ladsous said on Wednesday.

Fighting escalated in Darfur's Jebel Marra area between Sudanese government forces and rebels loyal to the Sudan Liberation Army's founder Abdul Wahid al-Nur.

The government blocked access to the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force known as UNAMID and humanitarian organisations, so the number of casualties is unknown, Ladsous added.

Khartoum has insisted the vote go ahead, as it was stipulated under a peace agreement signed in Doha in 2011 with several rebel groups.

The ruling National Congress Party backs the five-state system.

The United States has voiced concerns over the vote, saying that "if held under current rules and conditions, a referendum on Darfur cannot be considered a credible expression of the will of the people of Darfur".

Darfur was a single region until 1994, when it was divided into three states, with a further two added in 2012.

Since the conflict erupted in 2003, at least 300,000 people have been killed, according to the UN, and there are some 2.5 million people living there who have had to flee their homes.