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Sudan President Warns Civil War Could Re-Ignite

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (file photo)

Sudan's president has warned of a return to civil war unless the country's north and south resolve key issues ahead of a referendum on southern independence.

The state news agency quotes President Omar al-Bashir as saying the two sides must settle disputes involving water, debt, wealth-sharing, citizenship and the north-south border before the plebiscite, scheduled for January 9.

Mr. Bashir said failure to resolve these issues could trigger a new conflict that he said could be "much more serious" than the 21-year civil war that ended in 2005.

The Sudanese president made the comments at a conference in Libya Saturday, the same day a U.N. Security Council delegation wrapped up a four-day visit to Sudan. The envoys urged northern and southern officials to make sure the referendum is fair, held on time, and that its outcome is respected by all parties.

Tension has been rising in Sudan as the vote draws near. In Khartoum Saturday, riot police beat a group of about 30 southern independence supporters who turned up at a pro-unity rally.

Mr. Bashir's foreign minister has suggested the government could reject the referendum results if it sees "interference" in the vote.

The Bashir government has been campaigning for Sudan to remain unified. However, most analysts predict the now semi-autonomous south will choose independence.

The oil-rich Abyei border region holds a separate vote, also on January 9, on whether to be part of the north or the south. Disputes on border demarcation and voting rights for a local tribe have held up planning for that referendum.

Observers have warned that time to organize the two referenda is growing short. Organizers of the southern independence referendum set a timetable for voter registration just last week. Registration is due to begin November 14, with the final voter list to be published on December 31, just nine days before voters go to the polls.