By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's president plans to create two additional states on the western Darfur territory, officials and state media said Tuesday, in what rebels described as bid to curb their influence and strengthen central control from Khartoum.
Darfur, scene of an insurgency pitting mostly non-Arab rebels against government troops backed by largely Arab militias, is currently divided into three -- North, South and West Darfur.
Sudan's president Monday approved the creation of two additional states -- Central Darfur, with Zalingei as its capital, and Eastern Darfur, with Ed Daein as its capital, reported the pro-government Sudan Vision newspaper.
"The decision is taken. Now we are waiting for a presidential decree," said Rabie Abdelati, from President's Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
Darfur's large Fur tribe and other groups have long opposed the division of Darfur, saying it sliced up their territory and turned them into minority players in each state.
One of the rebels' main complaints when they launched the revolt in 2003 was that they did not have enough say in regional government. The United Nations believes that as many as 300,000 people have died since mostly non-arab rebels rose up against Khartoum, sparking a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.
The rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), with a large Fur membership, said the new move was a bid to divide Darfur further along tribal lines and break up its ethnic powerbases.
"This is the policy of the government of Sudan -- divide and conquer," said SLA spokesman Ibrahim al-Helwu.
"They are going to divide (the tribes) in sectors to make them weak," Helwu added, speaking by phone from Paris.
Sudan's government did not release maps or describe the borders of the new states.
Territory around Ed Daein is dominated by Arab nomadic groups, predominantly the Rizeigat -- a group including clans that have produced some of the fiercest pro-government militias in the Darfur conflict.
Territory around Zalingei is dominated by Darfur's large non-Arab Fur group. A new Central Darfur state could create a Fur heartland, but one outnumbered by the four other states.
The Sudan government's main Darfur negotiator Ghazi Salaheddin told state media the creation of two new states would not disrupt plans for a referendum on the administrative make-up of Darfur announced last week.
That vote, he said, would give Darfuris the choice between setting up one Darfur region and keeping several separate Darfur states. A single Darfur region could include the five states as sub-regions, said Abdelati, adding details had not been decided.
Analysts say Sudan's government has long resisted the idea of unifying the territory, for fear of giving Darfuris too large a power base and possibly encouraging separatism.
Sudan's oilproducing south is due to break away from Khartoum on July 9 after its people voted overwhelmingly to secede in a January referendum -- a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.
Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) last week said it supported one state but said Khartoum had set up the referendum without consultation to try and disrupt troubled peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha.
State media said the two new states had been proposed by a committee of the Sudan People's Initiative, a body set up by Bashir to work out solutions for Darfur in 2008.