Sudan: Darfur Regional Authority launched

 a Sudanese woman complains on January 19, 2012 about the deteriorating security situation around the Kassab camp - handout picture released by the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission, January 2012 The DRA will be responsible for overseeing security for the returnees

Sudan's president has launched a body intended to kick-start development in the war-torn western region of Darfur.

The new Darfur Regional Authority aims to share power and wealth, compensate those affected by the nine-year war and help the return of displaced people.

It was formed as part of a peace deal to end the war, and signed by one of Darfur's weaker rebel movements.

But the other rebel groups, who say they are fighting against their marginalisation, rejected the deal.

More than two million people remain in camps because of the fighting in Darfur and the UN estimates that more than 300,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly of disease.

The government in Khartoum puts the figure at about 12,000 people and says the number of dead has been exaggerated for political reasons.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other officials, accusing them of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur - which they deny.

The BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum says fighting in Darfur, where an UN-African Union peacekeeping mission is deployed, has died down since 2006 - but the region is still extremely insecure.

'Rebels to be freed'
map of Sudan

Mr Bashir formally inaugurated the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) in the regional capital Fasher, dancing for the crowds and waving his ceremonial swagger-stick in the air.

Once the music stopped, he announced the release of all prisoners from the Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM), which signed last year's Doha agreement.

But the gesture was not extended to the three major rebel movements which rejected the deal.

"It is not acceptable for Darfuri people to live in the camps. We want all the people in the camps to return to their villages," AFP news agency quoted the president as saying, promising "peace, security and services".

Critics believe the DRA, tasked with implementing the Doha deal, shares many of the weaknesses of the previous Darfur administration, a product of the 2006 Abuja peace deal.

The one rebel signatory in 2006, Minni Minnawi, later went back into rebellion, leading one of the three main groups not to have signed the Doha agreement.

The DRA will be made up of government nominees, members of civil society and representatives from the LJM.

'Big task'

Its leader, Tijani Sese, has been named the head of the DRA.

Our reporter says its task is a big one - essentially making sure the peace deal signed in Qatar means something on the ground.

Power-sharing has to an extent been fulfilled already, since a Darfuri was made vice-president, and LJM now has ministers in the federal government, as well as in the DRA, he says.

The DRA's executive body, which includes ministers and heads of several commissions, also has a wide range of responsibilities for post-war reconstruction, reconciliation and good governance of Darfur.

Our correspondent says it is still not clear how it will be funded or how it will co-exist with other authorities, like the state governors.

The governors are part of the DRA, but are unlikely to accept a reduction in their power easily, he says.

Darfur has a history of tension over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs, and African farmer communities.

The rebels have accused Khartoum of oppressing black African ethnic groups in favour of Arab ones.

Darfur's most powerful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, is in disarray since its leader, Khalil Ibrahim, was killed in December.

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