Nyala – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday pressed on with a government campaign to collect arms from tribes in war-torn Darfur where a devastating conflict has killed thousands and displaced millions.
Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and war crimes related to the conflict in Darfur, is touring the region ahead of a US decision on October 12 on whether to permanently lift a decades-old trade embargo on Sudan.
“We are asking people to surrender their arms voluntarily… some are giving up their weapons but others are keeping them,” Bashir said at a rally in West Darfur.
“Very soon we will come and take away these arms that are not surrendered.”
Darfur, a region of the size of France, has been awash with weapons since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.
The United Nations says the conflict has killed about 300 000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, most of them stuck in large camps.
The weapons are held by tribal militias, including those backed by government forces, and authorities now want them to be surrendered claiming that the conflict has ended.
“Security is the starting point of any development,” Bashir said in comments broadcast live on state television.
“You, the people of Darfur, give us security; we will give you development.”
Sudanese rebel groups have criticised the government’s weapons collection campaign.
“We all agree in principle to surrender weapons, but the government needs to explain why in the first place it distributed arms to militias who used it against ethnic groups?” said Mohamed Hassan, spokesperson for the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army led by Minni Minnawi (SLA/MM).
The governor of South Darfur, Adam al-Fakhi, said the campaign was yielding results.
“We have managed to collect 2,120 weapons from citizens so far, including heavy weapons that are usually used by the military,” he told a media team taken by the authorities from Khartoum to cover Bashir’s trip.
US President Donald Trump is to decide next month on whether to lift the Sudan embargo after his predecessor Barack Obama eased it in January.
Washington imposed the embargo in 1997 over Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups, and argues that the conflict in Darfur has been a factor in keeping it in place.