Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Tuesday urged those displaced by the conflict in Darfur to return home, saying the region had now recovered from a war that has killed tens of thousands.
More than 2.5 million people have fled their homes since 2003, when a conflict erupted in Darfur after ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Bashir's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of marginalising the region economically and politically.
Most of the displaced live in camps, after escaping fighting between government forces and rebels that the United Nations says has killed around 300,000 people.
Top Sudanese officials claim the conflict has now ended, and Bashir on Tuesday said those displaced should return to their homes as he visited the region.
‘The war has impacted the people negatively, but now the people are reconciling,’ Bashir said at a rally in West Darfur broadcast live on state television.
‘We want the internally displaced people to return to their homes, their farms and their villages.’
Bashir said the government also planned to disarm all militias in the region.
‘Darfur has started to recover, but this recovery will be complete when we collect arms,’ he said.
‘We want arms to be held only by our regular forces.’
Darfur, a region of the size of France, is awash with weapons held by tribal militias, including those backed by government forces.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and war crimes related to the Darfur conflict, is expected to visit some camps for the displaced over the next few days.
On Tuesday, the residents of the Kalma camp in South Darfur, the largest housing those displaced by the conflict, protested ahead of Bashir's likely visit there.
‘We reject Omar al-Bashir's visit to Kalma because these camps appeared only after the killings and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur,’ they said in a statement.
‘We reject meeting him completely.’
Human rights groups warn the Darfur conflict is still far from over and the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, as planned earlier this year, will leave many areas of the region without international protection.
Bashir's visit to Darfur comes just weeks ahead of Washington's decision on October 12 on whether to permanently lift its sanctions imposed on Khartoum.