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04.11.2019 Sudan

Sudan PM talks of peace on maiden trip to Darfur

By Ashraf Shazly
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visits a camp for the displaced in El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in the war-devastated western region.  By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)
NOV 4, 2019 SUDAN
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visits a camp for the displaced in El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in the war-devastated western region. By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said Monday his government was working towards bringing peace to war-torn Darfur as he met hundreds of victims of the conflict who demanded swift justice.

Hamdok's one-day visit was his first as prime minister to the devastated region, where a conflict that erupted in 2003 has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.

He met war victims in the town of Al-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur state that houses several sprawling camps where tens of thousands of displaced have been living for years.

"We want justice! Send all criminals of Darfur to the ICC (International Criminal Court)," chanted a crowd who met Hamdok as he visited camps in Al-Fashir.

Hamdok assured them that Sudan's new government was working towards peace in Darfur, a vast region the size of Spain.

"I know your demands even before you raised them," Hamdok, whose government was formed in September, told the crowd.

"We know the massacres that happened in Darfur... We will all work together to achieve your demands and ensure that normal life returns to Darfur," he said as the crowd chanted: "No justice, no peace in Darfur!"

The Darfur conflict flared when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the then Arab-dominated government of Omar al-Bashir, accusing it of marginalising the region economically and politically.

Khartoum then applied what rights groups say was a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels -- raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

About 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the United Nations says.

- 'Return our lands' -

Bashir, who the army ousted in April after nationwide protests against his rule, is wanted by the Hague-based ICC for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Bashir has steadfastly denied the ICC charges.

"We want those criminals to be given to the ICC. Without that there won't be peace in Darfur," Mohamed Adam, a prominent leader representing the victims of Darfur, told Hamdok.

Adam said the militiamen who in the early years of the conflict rampaged through the region's villages must now be disarmed.

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (C) is greeted by local officials in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur state.  By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP) Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (C) is greeted by local officials in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur state. By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)

"We also want our lands to be returned to their rightful owners," he said.

Several families displaced by the conflict have returned to their original homes in recent years but only to find their lands occupied by Arab pastoralists.

The protest movement that led to the ouster of Bashir said Sunday it was not against handing over the deposed autocrat to the ICC.

"All the members of the Forces of Freedom and Change agree on that," Ibrahim al-Sheikh, a leader from the umbrella protest movement, told reporters.

After he was deposed on April 11, ICC prosecutors once again demanded Bashir stand trial for mass killings in Darfur.

The military generals who had initially seized power in the aftermath of Bashir's fall and arrested him have refused to deliver the ousted president to The Hague.

Sudan's current transitional authorities would need to ratify the ICC's Rome Statute to allow for the transfer of Bashir to the court.

Bashir, who is being held in a Khartoum prison, is facing trial on corruption charges.

He ruled Sudan for three decades after seizing power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

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