CAIRO (AP) — Residents in Sudan's western region of Darfur began voting Monday on whether to unify the region's five states, in a referendum the U.S. said would "undermine the peace process."
The Khartoum government divided the region into three states in 1994, diluting the power of the Fur tribe, the region's largest. Darfur's division and the marginalization of the region were among the main factors behind the fighting that erupted in 2003, which led to the deaths of 300,000 people and allegations of crimes against humanity.
The government divided Darfur into five states in 2012.
The U.S. State Department has said the three-day referendum is unlikely to be fair, saying "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation."
While the violence and deaths have largely subsided in the past few years as 2.5 million Darfuris have been relocated to camps for internally displaced people, clashes still take place and peace hasn't been reached.
The United Nations had said tens of thousands of civilians have fled fighting in January around Jebel Marra, a stronghold for a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, which is one of the main rebel groups along with the Justice and Equality Movement.
Sudanese security forces clashed with SLA fighters on the ground in the fighting that began Jan. 15, while government planes bombarded positions in the area.
"The Darfur Referendum Commission's recent announcement that Darfuris residing outside of Darfur will be ineligible to vote disenfranchises millions of Darfuris, refugees, and IDPs," said the State Department Saturday.