Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Khartoum will respect South Sudan referendum outcome: al-Bashir

South Sudan has welcomed assurances made by Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir on 3rd January that he will respect the outcome of Sunday's independence referendum.

South Sudan's information minister Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin was quoted by the BBC on 5th January saying he was pleased by al-Bashir's comments. Benjamin said the vote will allow the people of South Sudan to decide their own future for the first time since 1898.

Al-Bashir made what is being seen to be his 'fairwell visit' visit to South Sudan, and in a speech to southern officials in Juba he said, “The preferred choice for us is unity, but in the end we will respect the choice of the southern citizens.”

Al-Bashir said he remains committed to lasting peace with the semi-autonomous region, and said that even if a new state was born, Khartoum would offer any technical or logistical support and training needed.

"The benefit we get from unity, we can also get it from two separate states."

Al-Bashir's talk was seen by analysts as a sign that the leader had finally accepted what the likely outcome of the referendum would be. He warned against people trying to disorganise the vote, and said they would face the full force of the country's laws, if implicated.

The South Sudan leader Salva Kiir announced, as a sign of reciprocation, that he would expel all Darfur rebels present in the south's territory. The issue of Darfur rebels has been a major sticking point between the north and the south, with Khartoum repeatedly accusing Juba of housing rebels that have been fighting against the central government since 2003.

“No opposition in the north shall take Juba as a base,” Kiir was quoted as saying in the Sudan Tribune.

There are still many issues pending between the two sides, such as border demarcation, oil revenue sharing, citizenship and the fate of the oil-rich Abyei region. At a press conference with Kiir, al-Bashir said both sides were agreed to continue dialogue on these issues and that they would be resolved before the end of the interim period.

If Southern Sudan votes for independence, which they are widely anticipated to do, Africa's newest country will come into being on 9th July 2011, exactly six years after the peace deal took effect.

The voter registration process went relatively smoothly, and nearly four million southerners – as only southerners are eligible to vote – registered. Tens of thousands of southerners living in the north have returned to the south to cast their vote, although their return has caused numerous problems in terms of housing and other resources.

The voting process will start on 9th January and will last for a week. At least sixty per cent of registered voters must take part for the referendum to be valid. This is seen by some sources as the most potentially tricky part of the referendum, as low literacy levels, little history of voting, and poor infrastructure means getting everyone to the polls may be more difficult that achieving the simple majority needed for a verdict either way.

Both sides have agreed to let all Sudanese, but particularly the many southerners living in Khartoum, choose which nationality to take. But al-Bashir's recent announcement that he will enforce a stricter version of Sharia law in the north if the south secedes may prompt even more southerners to leave the north. The returnees will provide an even greater challenge for the new Southern Sudan government.

Sources: BBC News, Sudan Tribune

For more information on Sudan, please see the menas borders website, here.

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