/ 19 October 2010

Sudan hints at delay to south independence vote

Sudan’s defence minister hinted on Tuesday that the referendum on independence for south Sudan due in January might have to be delayed because of the situation on the ground.

“The logic and reality says that [the referendum could be delayed], but we must resolve all the issues such as borders and Abyei in the framework of a single state, because two states resolving them opens the door to foreign interference and strife,” Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein said, as quoted by Egypt’s official MENA news agency.

He was speaking at a conference in Cairo after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Another senior Sudanese official angered the southern leadership last week for saying the vote on the future of Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region could not be held on time.

The ruling National Congress Party’s Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, who is responsible for Abyei, said it was “not possible to hold the vote in Abyei on January 9”.

“We must be well prepared for the referendum because it is not an end in itself, but a means to … security and stability,” Hussein said in Cairo on Tuesday.

Behind schedule
“There is agreement on 80% of the borders between the north and the south.

“The problem relates to less than 20% of the border region,” he noted, emphasising “the necessity of … demarcating the borders to prepare the ground for the referendum, so there is no excuse for fighting in the future”.

The two ballots, which are set for January 9, are the centrepiece of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

But preparations for the vote on southern independence are already behind schedule, and a member of a visiting UN Security Council delegation said earlier this month that the autonomous region’s president, Salva Kiir, warned of the south conducting a unilateral vote if the referendum suffers “huge delays”.

Meanwhile, negotiations between northern and southern leaders over who should be eligible to participate in the Abyei vote broke down last week. Further talks are planned in Addis Ababa on October 27. — AFP