/ 17 September 2010

Sudan holds first debate on unity vs secession

Hundreds of Sudanese packed into a hall in Khartoum late on Thursday for the country’s first public debate on independent rule for south, a rare show of democracy at work four months before a referendum on secession.

Most analysts believe the south will vote to secede from the Islamic north, against which it has fought an on-off civil war since 1955 over issues including ethnicity, ideology and oil.

The two secessionists won the debate and the crowd of both northerners and southerners jeered at and heckled the two unionists.

“This kind of debate has never happened before in the history of Sudan,” said Nureldin Satti, a member of the organising group and a Sudanese academic.

Bickering between the northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), who formed a coalition government after a 2005 peace deal, is seen jeopardising the chances of a vote by the scheduled January 9 date.

Former north-south foes in government have squabbled over implementing most of the deal, fuelling mutual mistrust, which has prompted many leading SPLM officials to voice support for secession.

“We will continue and we want to take this to [the southern capital] Juba next,” Satti added.

The debating panel included former prime minister Sadig al-Mahdi and southern journalist Wani Tombi for unity, with southern opposition politician Farouq Jaktoth and retired northern army Brigadier Sati Sorkati for secession.

“If we push for unity it will be a bad unity that will begin the war again,” Sorkati said.

Jaktoth said the debate was too little too late. “The axe has already fallen on the head,” he said. — Reuters