Less than a month remains before the start of a referendum on independence in Southern Sudan. The southern ruling party officially announced Saturday that it supports separation from the north.
It is no secret that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, whose armed wing fought a 21-year civil war against the north, supports an independent Southern Sudan. Saturday in Juba, the party' deputy secretary-general, Anne Itto, made the southern wing of the party's
"Since unity has not been made attractive, we are promoting what our people choose because we are following the people," she said.
Itto made the announcement while flanked by pictures of the symbol for separation, a raised, open palm, and bags of t-shirts promoting separation from the north.
Itto added that she is only speaking for the SPLM's southern branch, not the northern branch which has officials in the Government of National Unity in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.
Just 29 days remain until the January 9 vote on southern independence. Next month's vote is the centerpiece of a 2005 peace deal
between the mostly Muslim north and majority Christian and animist south.
The 2005 agreement ended a 21-year civil war that claimed about two million lives and displaced four million people. Fears of a return to violence have increased recently.
Three alleged attacks in southern territory by the northern army were reported this week. The chairman of the commission overseeing the referendum also requested a delay in voting because of the tight schedule. The SPLM has warned of a return to violence if there is any delay in the vote.
Itto said there was no need for a delay, thanks to the hiring last week of a British company to print the ballot papers.
"This company would have the ballot papers ready within 15 days from the time the contract was awarded. To me, that means there is a guarantee that the referendum, or voting, will start on the ninth," she said.
The voter registration period was extended by seven days and ended on December 8. In the coming days, an initial list of voters will be published then the objections period will start. The final list of voters is expected on January 8, one day before voting starts.
Itto left open the possibility that the voting period will be extended. "For me the most important thing is it starts on the 9 of January. Let's get to ninth January, let's start voting, and if many people have not voted, it will be the decision of the commission to either extend by a few days or not. That will be technical," she said.
Voting is scheduled to end on January 15 but the referendum commission has the authority to extend it if they need to.