KHARTOUM — The Sudanese cabinet on Thursday approved a bill to add two new states to Darfur's existing three, official media reported, in a move which rebels said undermines prospects for peace in the war-torn region.
"The draft law ... embodies the recommendations of the Darfur people's forum, which was held in 2008 and recommended increasing the number of states in Darfur," Justice Minister Mohammed Bashara Dusa said, quoted by state news agency KUNA.
The bill, which still requires parliament's approval, carves a new eastern and central state out of South and West Darfur, with Al-Daein and Zalingei as their respective capitals.
The Darfur people's forum, held for the first time in White Nile state in 2008, was organised by the government and attended by tribal leaders and political parties but boycotted by rebels.
The main rebel groups reacted angrily to the proposal to increase the number of states in Darfur when it was first announced in March.
They condemned it as tantamount to a policy of "divide and rule," designed to divert attention from the vast western region's real problems and to sabotage Darfur peace talks in Doha.
The International Crisis Group echoed those sentiments in a 34-page report published on Wednesday.
It said President Omar al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party risked causing the disintegration of Sudan if the NCP failed to democratise and address the grievances of marginal regions.
The party had mobilised its security apparatus to suppress revolts, decided to end debate on Sudan?s diversity and identity, and was "ready to subdivide key states to accommodate political barons," the think-tank said.
"These are ad-hoc decisions that set the stage for continued violence that may not be containable and could lead to further fragmentation of the country," the Brussels-based group warned.
In addition to the carve-up of Darfur, the Khartoum government plans to hold a referendum by July 1 on how the region should be governed.
Voters are to decide whether Darfur should be granted regional status, as it had before 1994 and which could lead to a greater degree of autonomy, or remain as individual states.
But the people will have no say on the number of states within the region.
Rebel groups have warned that conducting the vote before a political agreement has been reached will also torpedo foundering peace talks in the Qatari capital, where Khartoum has signalled growing frustration at lack of progress.
At least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people fled their homes since the region's conflict broke out in 2003 between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime, the United Nations says.
The government puts the death toll at 10,000.
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