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Sudan President Cautions Against Referendum on Secession Prior To Settling Regional Disputes

  • Douglas Mpuga

Sudan’s president warns that a serious conflict could erupt if Khartoum and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) do not settle disputes before a referendum on secession planned for early January.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, speaking from an Arab League summit in Sirte, Libya, over the weekend, is quoted as saying he “regretted the fact that SPLM leader and south Sudan president Salva Kiir had recently publicly come out for separation.”

Bashir says this was against the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which said both northern and southern leaders should try to make unity attractive to southerners before the vote.

But Walid Phares, an Advisor to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the United States House of Representatives, says “talking about war and deploying northern forces at the demarcation line is more of a threat to peace than a re-enforcement of the agreement.”

Phares says the Sudan peace agreement signed five years ago refers differences over interpretation of the accord to international and local courts. “Unfortunately,” he says, “these threats are not new. They started about a month ago when the government of al-Bashir started issuing threats against the south.”

The government in Khartoum, explains Phares, is trying to use the issue of the referendum on southern independence to end sanctions against Sudan and the indictment of president al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Phares also defends the comments of Salva Kiir (the president of the Government of Southern Sudan) regarding the vote for secession.
“The issue of unity is a matter of consent; it is not an issue to be imposed on either side,” he says.

The most important issue for the United States and the international community, he adds, “is [to make sure there are] no more wars in Sudan, a country that has experienced genocide in Darfur, mass killings in the south, and economic disaster in the north.

Phares says there should be a commitment by both parties in Sudan to sit down and talk about these important issues – regardless of the outcome of the scheduled January poll.

“The borders are a critical issue, “ he says, “because they will determine the sharing of the resources, especially oil….But whatever [happens], [the results of the discussions] should not lead to military confrontation.”

Phares says a military confrontation in Sudan would be of concern to the whole region: “The conflict in Sudan has always involved neighboring countries. The issue of the River Nile waters and other resources would also complicate the situation in case of renewed conflict in Sudan.”

An official of SPLM says some of the issues the Sudanese president is raising could be negotiated after the referendum. Charles Kisanga told VOA from the southern Sudan city of Juba that the vote should go ahead as scheduled whether these issues are resolved or not.