Wednesday, 12 January 2011

High voter turnout in Southern Sudan, but violence continues in border region

A policeman in Southern Sudan shows the ink on his finger from voting
Sudan is only half way through the week-long voting period for the Southern Sudan independence referendum, but they are already nearing the 60per cent participation rate necessary for the vote to be considered valid, according to Khartoum's Al Sahafa newspaper.

It is thought that voter turnout in the nouth has reached 60per cent, while voter turnout in the north is at 30per cent and in the eight overseas countries where voting is taking place, turnout has been 63per cent.

As a result, it is almost certain that enough votes will be cast for the referendum result to be accepted. That not enough people would be able to vote was a major concern before voting started on Sunday, 9th January.

While fears of widespread return to violence have proved incorrect, there have been numerous clashes on the north-south border on recent days, and at least 33 people have been killed in the disputed Abyei region alone.

Khartoum has said that the clashes were between rival nomadic and farming tribes over grazing lands, but Juba believes that the Arab Misseriya tribesman, bankrolled by Khartoum, are behind the violence.

"There is always someone behind these things, it is not just a local thing like people are saying," said one senior Southern officer, who refused to be named.

In related news, the UN has acknowledged that it gave helicopter transport to a man wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Southern Kordofan governor Ahmad Mohammad Harun is wanted by the court on 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and rape in the Darfur conflict.

But a UN spokesperson said that Harun was crucial to negotiations between the Misseriya tribes people and Ngok Dinka people of Abyei, and that was why he was given transport.

"Governor Harun was critical to bringing the Misseriya tribal leaders in southern Kordofan to a peace meeting in Abyei to stop further clashes and killings,” according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Along with the violence in the Abyei region, there has also been 10 deaths in the border area between the north’s Southern Kordofan state and the south’s Bahr al-Ghazal state. Southern internal affairs minister Gier Chuang said the attack in the border region came as a convoy of returnees moving from the north to the south in order to vote was ambushed on Monday, 10th January.

Chuang said that with the exception of these isolated incidents, the vote was progressing peacefully. "Otherwise, the security in all of the states of the south remains normal and the south is on track to achieve the objective it has fought for for so many years," he said.

Violence in Abyei is the most worrying, as the fate of this disputed state is perhaps the issue that is most likely to cause war between the north and what we can expect will be a newly independence south. Abyei was meant to have its own referendum on which country to join, but it has been postponed as crucial sticking points - including the exact border demarcation and how to divide oil revenues - remain unsolved.

Southern Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir said on Saturday 8th January that returning to war was not an option, and Northern leader Omar Al-Bashir has said he will accept the result of the vote, but there are many issues to be resolved between the two sides before Southern Sudan becomes a new country in July.

In a gesture of goodwill, al-Bashir has proposed to take on all of Sudan’s $38 billion (£24.5 billion) debt if the south declared independence, according to AFP.

Sources: the Telegraph, AFP, the Ghanaian Journal, Menas Associates

For more news and analysis on Sudan, see the Menas Borders website, here.

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