Sudan will hold a referendum in Darfur on April 11-13 over whether or not the war-torn region will stay divided into five states or reunite as one entity with a degree of autonomy, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The splitting of Darfur into five states was one of the main reasons the deadly conflict there arose in the first place. The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
"Voting over the administrative situation of Darfur will be between 11 and 13 of next April," the Darfur referendum commission head Omar Ali Gemaa said at a news conference.
The referendum was agreed upon in the 2001 Doha peace deal that the government signed in Qatar with the Liberation and Justice Movement, an umbrella organization of small rebel groups.
The two main rebel groups that started the conflict, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, did not sign the deal.
Sudan has decided to go ahead with the referendum unilaterally with several rebel and opposition groups boycotting the process, raising fears that the region might follow in South Sudan's footsteps and secede.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 under a 2005 peace deal which ended one of Africa's longest civil wars but both countries remain at loggerheads over ownership of disputed territories and other issues.
According to the United Nations, as many as 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, some 4.4 million people need aid and more than 2.5 million have been displaced. Although the killings have eased, the insurgency continues and Khartoum has sharply escalated attacks on rebel groups over the past year.