Electoral authorities in Sudan say the results are in from the April 11-13 referendum on the administrative boundaries of strife-torn Darfur, with 97% voting to maintain its current five-state status. But the vote was boycotted by the civil and armed opposition alike in Darfur. Students at El-Fasher University in North Darfur protested the vote, and similar rallies were held in at least three IDP camps in Central Darfur. The US State Department issued a statement saying the referendum was unlikely to be fair, asserting that "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation." The statement drew diplomatic protests from Sudan's regime, which supported maintaining the five-state status quo and posed the referendum as fulfilling terms of the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed with some rebel groups, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. But rebel factions that did not sign on remain in arms, and even as the vote was prepared violence has again escalated in Darfur.
Clashes between government-aligned forces and Sudan Liberation Army factions in the Jebel Marra, the mountain range in the heart of Darfur, have forced at least 100,000 people from their homes since mid-January, the United Nations says. Just this month, pro-government militias have burned over 50 villages in the Jebel Marra.
The fighting has become extremely confused as rival government-aligned factions have also clashed. On April 18, the governor's residence in Ed Daein, capital of East Darfur, was burned in an apparent attack by militiamen of the Arabic-speaking Rizeigat tribe. The governor was evidently accused of favoring the rival Maalia (Ma'aliya) tribe, also Arabic-speaking and groomed by the regime to fight SLA forces.
The question of administrative boundaries is critical to the conflict. Darfur was a single unified entity until 1994 when the government split it into three states, further dividing it into another two in 2012. This was opposed by the Fur and other indigenous Black African peoples of the region, who saw it as a move by Khartoum to weaken them, and contributed to the emergence of an armed insurgency. Over the past 13 years of conflict, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced and some 300,000 killed, according to UN figures.
Most of the bloodshed has been carried out by the government's proxy militias, organized by the region's Arabic-speaking tribes, and collectively known as the Janjaweed—a colloquialism in local Arabic dialect for armed horsemen. Now formally reconstituted as the Rapid Support Forces, they have been carrying out a renewed scorched earth-campaign in the Jebel Marra. Darfur's Black African opposition notes that the new upsurge of violence comes as Darfur marks the 100-year anniversary of the region's annexation by British-colonized Sudan, putting an end to an independent sultanate that ruled there from 1650 until 1916—and beginning the supremacy of the Arab tribes initially groomed as proxies by the British.
The renewed violence has also elicited a revival of activism around Darfur in the US. Demonstrators held a two-day vigil and 24-hour hunger strike outside the White House this week to protest as part of a Global Week of Action Against Genocide in Darfur. Their statement charged that Khratoum is preparing a "Final Solution" to its campaign of genocide in Darfur under cover of the referendum. Niemat Ahmadi of the Darfur Women's Action Group, said: "We demanded the Obama administration speak up and send special forces to Darfur to assist the situation. The people are dying because of the government of Sudan, and that's why we want the world leaders, particularly the US government, to speak up against the recent attacks in Darfur and hold the government of Sudan accountable." (BBC News, AFP, April 23; VOA, Radio Dabanga, Amsterdam, via AllAfrica, April 22; Sudan Tribune, Nuba Reports, April 19; Radio Dabanga via AllAfrica, April 18; Xinhua, April 14; AP, Reuters, April 13; Reuters, Sudan Tribune, April 11; Radio Dabanga via AllAfrica, April 10)