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Bashir Suggests South Sudan's Referendum Might Be Invalid


Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir suggested Monday that pro-secession comments made by a leading southern politician might have invalidated the south's January referendum on self determination. Our correspondent reports from the international conference on federalism in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

President al-Bashir was one of three African leaders attending the opening of the 5th International Conference on Federalism. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame was there, along with the host, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

In remarks to diplomats and dignitaries in Addis Ababa's Millennium Hall, Mr. Bashir said Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, is prepared to peacefully accept the outcome of the January 9th southern independence referendum. But the Sudanese leader chided southern politicians for what he called failing to live up to the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA.

Days earlier, the deputy head of the Southern People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, Ann Itto, appeared to violate the terms of the CPA, analysts say, by stating she was in favor of secession, and that the party was too.

Speaking in Arabic with an interpreter by his side, Mr. Bashir noted that the CPA requires all sides to make make unity an attractive option for voters.

"In Sudan, we are still awaiting the unity of our country in accordance with the stipulations of Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which calls for the two partners of the agreement to work together to make the unity option attractive," said Bashir. "We are committed to accept the results - whether unity or secession - as long as the referendum is conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner."

An NCP spokesman had earlier raised the question of whether the outcome could be judged free and fair in view of the SPLM leader's pro-secession comments.

Mr. Bashir told the federalism conference that regardless of the result, the referendum must not be used as an excuse for a resumption of violence.

"The NCP together with our partners SPLM have already gone too far in setting and coordinating our plans for a mutual and brotherly relationship between north and south, both in case of unity or secession," he said. "We have agreed to put behind our backs all issues that might lead to a resumption of hostilities. Sustainable peace is going to be our motto in all cases."

President Bashir's appearance at the federalism conference comes as the International Criminal Court intensifies pressure on the Sudanese leader.

The Sudanese leader is reported to have cancelled a visit to Zambia later this week to attend another gathering of leaders. Zambia is an ICC member and would be obligated to arrest him on warrants charging genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

Mr. Bashir is a frequent visitor to Ethiopia, which is not a signatory to the ICC treaty and does not recognize the warrants. The Ethiopian capital is also headquarters of the African Union, which this month expressed confidence in the Sudanese leader and urged the ICC to suspend its proceedings against him.

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