Darfur rebels slam Khartoum 'divide and rule' plan
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Darfur rebels on Wednesday condemned a government decision to establish two new states in Sudan's war-torn western region as a policy of divide and rule that undermines the prospects for peace.
"The government says it is going to create more states in Darfur," said Ibrahim al-Hillu, a spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army rebel group headed by exiled leader Abdelwahid Nur.
"The government is doing this to divide and rule Sudan," he told AFP by telephone from France.
"We know that Darfur is one region and we are not going to recognise their plans. The creation of two new states is going to create chaos," Hillu added.
Government officials confirmed that a committee headed by President Omar al-Bashir had on Monday endorsed a recommendation to establish two new states in Darfur, in addition to the existing three.
But they said Darfuris would have the chance to approve or reject the initiative in a referendum on the region's future administrative status, which presidential adviser on Darfur Ghazi Salaheddine said was being prepared by the government, to take place in around three months.
The Justice and Equality Movement, the most heavily-armed Darfur rebel group, said the creation of two new states and the proposed referendum were designed to divert attention from the real problems in Darfur and to sabotage peace talks in Doha.
"The government has to commit itself to the peace negotiations and to a political settlement or commit itself to unilateral measures that we do not accept," JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam told AFP, speaking by telephone from the Qatari capital.
"They want to divide the people of Darfur along tribal lines."
Local media said the new states would be Central Darfur and Eastern Darfur, with Zalingei and Al-Daein as their respective capitals.
"Now it is decided that two new states will be created. The president was the chairman of the committee that approved this decree, which also included local leaders," Rabie Abdel Ati, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, said on Wednesday.
"A lot of Darfuris participated in the committee. However, if the people of Darfur opt in the referendum for one region, then one region will be accepted by the government," he added.
Explaining the reason behind the government's decision, Abdel Ati said that after the secession of the south, "the people need their rulers to be nearer them."
"The new states will enable the authorities to handle the disputes between the various groups more effectively. Darfur is a vast region, so it will also help to establish security there," he said.
Peace talks had taken a small step forward last month when the government sent a small negotiating team back to Doha, led by chief negotiator Amin Hasan Omar, after recalling its delegation in December.
The JEM confirmed at the time that peace negotiations had resumed but on Wednesday a spokesman said talks with the government were now on hold.
In addition, two of the other main Darfur rebel groups are absent from the Doha peace process, with their leaders currently thought to be holding separate discussions in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
Abdelwahid Nur, who heads one branch of the Sudan Liberation Army, flew to Nairobi on Saturday from Paris, where he is based, to hold "important discussions" in Kampala with Minni Minnawi -- who leads another faction of the SLA, according to rebel sources.
At least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people forced to flee their homes since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, the United Nations says.
The government puts the death toll at 10,000.