KHARTOUM The people of Sudan's Darfur have voted not to reunite the multiple states of its conflict-torn western region into one entity, the option favoured by the central Khartoum government, the Darfur referendum commission said on Saturday.
The vote was boycotted by major rebel and opposition groups who believe the Sudanese government's splitting of Darfur into three states in 1994, and later into a further five states, led to heavier Khartoum control and helped trigger fighting in 2003.
The state referendum commission said 97 percent of voters chose to keep the multi-state administrative system and that 3.08 million people of a total 3.21 million eligible voters turned out.
The Darfur conflict began when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government based in the capital Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
According to the United Nations, some 300,000 people have since been killed in Darfur, 4.4 million people need aid and more than 2.5 million have been displaced.
The government presented the April 11-13 referendum as a major concession. But rebel and opposition groups have cried foul at what they said was a rigged election in favour of a "divide-and-rule" multi-state system.
Analysts and diplomats say the government opposes a unified Darfur as this would give the rebels a platform to push for independence just as South Sudan successfully did in 2011, taking with it most of the country's oil reserves.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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