The leader of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudanese government is coming under criticism after calling for independence over the weekend.<!-- IMAGE -->
Salva Kiir called on Southern Sudanese to vote for independence in the upcoming referendum if they want to be free.
He also warned that they would be treated as "second class" citizens if they vote for unity with the north.
But President Hassan Al-Bashir's National Congress party said Kirr's comments undermine the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which called for unity.
The controversy could put pressure on the already rocky relationship between the north and south.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth Head of the Government of Southern Sudan mission to the United States said that Kirr made the right call in his independence pronouncement.<!-- IMAGE -->
"The president of Southern Sudan made a very excellent statement in the eyes of the people of Southern Sudan. That means if you go and vote for the unity of the country you will be even more than the second class citizen. But I would even add more by saying in Sudan, we are fourth class citizens we are not even the second," Gatkuoth said.
Gatkuoth said Southern Sudanese find themselves way down the pecking order.
"The first ones are those who are Muslims and Arabs. The second ones are the women who are Arabs. The third ones are Africans who are Muslims and the fourth (ones) are us (Southern Sudanese). So, basically we are going to be the fourth class citizens," Gatkuoth said.
He described Kiir's pronouncement as a challenge to their northern partners.
"It is actually challenging the National Congress Party to do more so that the unity can be attractive," he said.
The National Congress Party was displeased with Kiir's pronouncement saying it contravenes the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended decades of Sudan's civil war.
But Gatkuoth denied the statement undermines the CPA.
"This is not true. What President Salva Kiir said is actually in line with what the CPA says. The CPA is actually calling for the two options; unity or separation and the people of Southern Sudan are going to decide one option…so it is not contravening at all the CPA," Gatkuoth said.
He said there is ample evidence Southern Sudanese favor separation.
"Analyses that are happening are that if a referendum is conducted today 98 percent of the people of Southern Sudan will vote for separation. So, he is actually stating the obvious," he said.<!-- IMAGE -->
Meanwhile, voter registration began over the weekend in Sudan for the country's first multi-party elections in 24 years. Officials with Sudan's national election commission say registration centers opened across the country Sunday.
Voters will elect a
president, parliament and state governors in the elections scheduled for next
The planned elections are a key part of the 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between northern and southern Sudan.
The now semi-autonomous south is scheduled to hold a separate vote on secession in 2011.