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Analyst: South Sudan Violence Could Undermine 2011 Referendum

An analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG) told VOA the government of the semi-autonomous southern Sudan is concerned violent activities of an armed splinter group could undermine the upcoming referendum scheduled for January 2011.

Fouad Hikmat said there is a need for President Salva Kiir’s government to find a way to engage the splinter group ahead of the referendum.

“It is important that the government of south Sudan and the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) should try to reach (out) to them because this sort of splinting group it could mushroom into something (else) and, therefore, it could create a risk for the referendum,” he said.

Scheduled for January, the referendum will allow residents in southern Sudan to decide whether to be part of Sudan or become an independent country.

The SPLM has often accused President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) of supporting “violent elements” in the semi-autonomous southern Sudan to destabilize the region ahead of the referendum.

But, the NCP denies the allegation saying it is committed to working closely with the SPLM to ensure the referendum is held as stipulated in the 2005 peace accord signed between the two parties ending more than two decades of civil war.

Supported by some disgruntled former soldiers in south Sudan’s army, George Athor, a former general in the SPLA, has been launching attacks in the south claiming he was cheated in the race for Jonglei governor in Sudan’s last April general elections - a charge the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) denies.

Analyst Hikmat said President Bashir’s unity government should resolve ongoing problems ahead of the referendum.

“I think the priority now is to agree on what is the program and the priority of the government of national unity after it has been established. If the government, which is composed of the elected NCP and the SPLM, they don’t have a common program with the clear priority, and including setting up the conditions for a credible referendum, I think they are going to get into trouble when the time comes for the referendum,” Hikmat said.

He also said both the NCP and the SPLM will not benefit if the ongoing violence in the south undermines the credibility of the referendum.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a leading member of the SPLM is quoted as saying Sudan may ask the United Nations to conduct a referendum on the oil-rich Abyei region after both his party and the NCP failed to agree on a team to organize the poll.

Analyst Hikmat said there is need for the international community, including the African Union and the United Nations, to help resolve all issues with the implementation of the rest of the provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to ensure a smooth referendum next year.