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Rising Tension And Frustration As Sudan Referendum Nears

  • Douglas Mpuga

Sudan’s referendum is running behind schedule with the chairman of the Southern Sudan's referendum commission saying registration for the crucial vote would now begin in mid-November.

The referendum, scheduled to be held on January 9 2011, is one of the major provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005.

The much delayed process is one of numerous issues raising tension between the north and thesouth ahead of the crucial vote.

On Friday, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit for the first time openly declared that he would vote for separation in January when voters in the South and in the disputed Abyei region are expected to choose whether to break away from the mainly Islamic North.

“The commission is trying very hard to meet the deadline but it’s a tight schedule” said Faud Hikmat, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, referring to the southern Sudan's referendum commission whose secretary general was only appointed recently.

Hikmat, who spoke to VOA from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, said the issue of the north-south border demarcation could also be a problem if there is no political will between the two parties to overcome this hurdle.

However, he said, that now that the rainy season has ended, physical border demarcation is possible even in the disputed areas. “But the border committee should start meeting to lay the groundwork on finalizing the border demarcation.”

Hikmat noted that the issue of border demarcation is highly politicized because “the National Congress Party (NCP) is making it a condition for the referendum to proceed.
While the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) thinks it is important, he said, they don’t think it should affect the referendum process.

Hikmat said the heated rhetoric between the north and south reflects the level of frustration between the two parties.
He cited the initial statement of a senior Sudanese minister who said that should the south secede, they (southerners living in the north) will lose their rights – a statement that was later reversed by the president.

On the other hand, he said, the SPLM is threatening war if the referendum is not held as agreed.
Hikmat also cited [Sudanese] president Omar Al Bashir who recently expressed doubt about the benefit of the CPA that could not bring unity and peace, but secession and war.

He said the Abyei referendum further complicates the situation. Another referendum will take place simultaneously in the contested oil rich region of Abyei, where residents have to decide whether they want to be part of north or south Sudan.

“The referendum in Abyei could delay the announcement of the results of the referendum in the south as the people of Abyei have to decide whether they want to join the north or the south,” he said.

Hikmat expressed hope that the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that started Sunday between the NCP and SPLM will resolve some of these issues.