Warning over south Sudan independence vote

A referendum due early next year on south Sudan’s independence will be derailed unless the country’s electoral commission swiftly resolves an internal row, a southern leader warned on Thursday.

“If the referendum commission within the next two weeks is not able to resolve all the issues that they are facing now, the referendum will be killed off and the referendum commission will be responsible for that,” said Pagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The referendum, a key plank of the 2005 peace deal that ended a decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan, is due to take place on January 9 2011 and promises southerners the chance to choose independence.

“It would be very dangerous to shift that day because the hopes, expectations and aspirations of the people of southern Sudan, as individuals who will be determining their future, is so pinned on that day,” Amum said.

“The majority of southern Sudanese will vote for secession if they have the chance to vote,” he added.

Parliament ratified a key law at the end of last year setting up the vote and the commission responsible for organising it, after northern and southern leaders overcame a dispute that threatened to jeopardise the peace deal.

And since being returned to power in April elections, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has repeatedly promised the referendum on southern independence will go ahead as scheduled.

But the commission, which should have been formed at the beginning of 2010, was only nominated in June, and members are still divided over who should be its secretary general.

“The commission now is paralysed, it is not working,” Amum said.

“I am afraid there may be elements within the referendum commission that are actually planning ... a postponement, or in the worst case a total betrayal [of the right] to be exercised by the people of southern Sudan,” he added.

List of eligible voters
Under the referendum law, the final list of eligible voters should be drawn up by October 9, three months before the vote itself.

However, the commission has still not begun the laborious process of voter registration, which is expected to take several weeks at least.

Other outstanding issues ahead of the January referendum include the demarcation of north-south borders, with Khartoum and Juba still at loggerheads over five distinct sites along the tentative border.

“We at the commission will begin the necessary measures to try to hold the referendum on time but we must warn the partners” there is not enough time, commission member Tarek Osman al-Taher told Agence France-Presse on Monday.

Officials from al-Bashir’s National Congress Party said the commission was merely expressing procedural difficulties, and that any decision on a delay could only be made by the party and its ruling partners.

Last month a report by 24 international humanitarian and human rights organisations warned that Africa’s largest nation was “alarmingly” unprepared for a vote in January.

But the SPLM condemned al-Taher’s comments as “irresponsible”, and Amum said any postponement of the referendum would “not be in the interests of peace”.

The former southern rebel group fought a 22-year war with the north in which about two million people were killed in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources including oil, before a power-sharing deal was agreed.—AFP

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