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South Sudan Denies Voter Intimidation Charge Ahead of Referendum

Residents of the remote south central Southern Sudan village of Nyal line up to register their names at a local school being used as a voter registration office, 15 Nov 2010.
Residents of the remote south central Southern Sudan village of Nyal line up to register their names at a local school being used as a voter registration office, 15 Nov 2010.

Ezekiel Gatkuoth, head of south Sudan mission to the US and UN says it is the north that is holding southerners in the north hostage

An official of the government of Southern Sudan is denying reported allegations that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has told southerners in the north not to register for the 9th January southern Sudan referendum.

This comes as Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) was quoted Sunday as saying that low registration of southerners in the north would affect the credibility of the referendum.

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of the southern Sudan missions to the United Nations and the United States and a member of SPLM ruling council, told VOA that, on the contrary, it is the NCP that is making it difficult for southerners in the north to register.

“In the SPLM leadership, we have made it clear that this referendum must be transparent, free and fair and everybody is encouraged to register because this is historic for southern Sudanese. Southern Sudanese in the north, what we are hearing is that registration is very slow because some of them are afraid of registering themselves because the NCP, and the leadership of the NCP, (are) even threatening that, if they are not going to vote unity, their lives will be in danger; they will not even be treated in the hospital,” he said.

One news report quoted two unidentified SPLM officials as saying that the SPLM did not want southerners in the north to register for fear the north could manipulate the results.

Gatkuoth said the south continues to encourage all southerners to register wherever they are.

“You know, individuals have their own decisions and choices to make, and so those southerners who are in the north, if they decided to move to the south and register in the south, they have their own right. Even here, in America where I am, there are southern Sudanese who decided to go home to register because they wanted to be registered in their villages. So, we are encouraging everybody to register and vote,” Gatkuoth said.

He called on the NCP not to discourage southerners in the north from registering, including in Abyei.

“They are basically holding Abyei hostage; they are not allowing the people of Abyei to exercise their rights. The north Dinka people should come register and vote to decide if they are going to be part of the north or move back to the south. The Missirya, they have never been in the south, why would they be asked to return to the south or remain in the north because they have never been in the south. The Ngog Dinka are the ones who are asked in the referendum to return back to the south, not the Missirya. So, definitely, Abyei belongs to the north Dinka people, and the NCP should stop keep(ing) them as hostage,” Gatkuoth said.

Gatkuoth rejected the NPC assertion that the SPLM was afraid of southern Sudanese in the north registering for the referendum because they might vote for unity as opposed to secession.

“We have no problem if there are individuals who are actually interested in voting for unity; we have no problem, and that is why President Salva Kiir made it very clear that, those who are campaigning for unity, they will campaign freely without any fear or intimidation. Those of us who are for separation, we are going to campaign also for separation. And, let me reassure you there is no reason for SPLM to intimidate anybody. We know for sure the southerners are going to vote for separation 100 percent. So, there is no reason for us to resort to anything that will make us look bad in the eyes of the international community,” Gatkuoth said.