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Sudan’s president to visit all five Darfur states in April

March 21 - 2016 KHARTOUM / ADDIS ABABA
Al Bashir in an earlier mass rally in South Darfur (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)
Al Bashir in an earlier mass rally in South Darfur (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)

On 1 April, President Omar Al Bashir will begin a visit to Darfur, ahead of the administrative referendum scheduled to be held in the region on 11-13 April. Yasir Arman, Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) denounces the planned visit.

The president will visit each Darfur state, where he will address mass rallies and hold “quality meetings” with officials and representatives of civil society organisations, Minister of Information Dr Ahmed Bilal Osman told reporters in Khartoum on Saturday.

In the referendum, people currently residing in Darfur will be able to determine whether the region will continue as five states or return to one administrative unit.

According to the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) that was signed in July 2011 by the Sudanese government and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a coalition of 19 breakaway factions of the Darfur rebel movements, the referendum was to be held within one year after the signing of the peace accord. Last October, President Omar Al Bashir announced the date of the referendum.

“How can a referendum be held in a region where the majority of the population is denied the right to live?”

Displaced Darfuris, Sudanese opposition parties, and civil society activists earlier expressed their grave concerns about holding the referendum in the ongoing rampant insecurity in the region, and the government attacks on Jebel Marra since 15 January that have forced more than 110,000 people to flee their homes so far.

War crimes’

Yasir Arman, Secretary-General and Chief Negotiator of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) strongly criticised Al Bashir’s visit to Darfur to Radio Dabanga.

“Is it possible that a perpetrator of war crimes visits his victims as if nothing has happened?,” the rebel leader asked. “How can a referendum be held in a region where the majority of the population is denied the right to live?

“It is almost criminal to organise an administrative referendum in a region where more than two million displaced people are trying to survive in camps or with their relatives,” Arman said. “Where nearly a million people sought protection outside the region, and where the majority of the population is being prevented from expressing their opinion or from returning to their areas to their areas of origin.”

“The priority now is the provision of food and other relief items, rather than a manipulated referendum.”

He called on the people in Darfur to boycott the referendum, and “refrain from dividing the people into blacks and Arabs on an ethnic basis. “The priority now is the provision of food and other relief items, rather than a manipulated referendum.”

Voting

On Sunday, the Darfur Referendum Commission announced that the voters will be able to tick one of the two images on the ballot papers: an image of one dwelling hut (gutiya) or five gutiya. The Commission further published the final lists of registered voters in the five states.

In late February, the Commission reported that the number of Darfuris who registered in all 63 localities for the referendum “stands at 3,538,105 out of the about 4.6 million people who are eligible to vote in the region”.

“This is in itself enough reason to cancel the referendum, because this number is equal to half the population of Darfur, according to the results of the latest census,” Darfur lawyer and activist Mohamed Hala told Radio Dabanga last week. “This is impossible as it means that even the Jebel Marra displaced hiding in caves up in the mountain managed to register for the referendum.”

The population of Darfur was estimated at about 7.5 million in the last census conducted in Sudan in 2008.


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