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Sudan President’s Visit to Juba Seen as 'Good Gesture'

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Khartoum, 20 Dec 2010
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Khartoum, 20 Dec 2010

South Sudan’s envoy to the United States and United Nations has welcomed as a positive gesture Tuesday’s scheduled visit of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the region ahead of Sunday’s referendum.

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, who is also a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) ruling council, told VOA the referendum will receive a significant boost if President Bashir publicly declares he will accept the outcome of the vote.

“This good gesture that President Bashir has started is welcome and we are so excited about it. We, in the government of southern Sudan, and also the SPLM and southern Sudanese in general are very happy about this,” said Gatkuoth.

“He (Mr. Bashir) has been making statements recently that he will be the one to recognize the new state, if the people of south Sudan vote for separation. Now, for him to go to Juba, to be received by all southern Sudanese and also declaring it in front of them, that will set the tone and re-open a new page. That will actually build bridges between north and south that has been lacking for many years.”

Mr. Bashir’s visit comes after a top official of the referendum commission announced the organization is “100 percent prepared” for the referendum.

Chan Reec, a leading member of the commission, said Monday that nearly 4-million people are registered to vote. Reec said the vast majority of voters are southern residents with small percentages living in northern Sudan or abroad.

He said the distribution of ballots is almost complete and that the election will go forward despite an absence of promised funding from Sudan's national government.

Gatkuoth said southern Sudanese want to hear reassurances about the referendum from President Bashir.

He also dismissed suggestions that President Bashir will be blamed for the country’s split if the outcome of the referendum is separation rather than the country’s unity.

“Historically, southern Sudanese have been fighting for independence of the south. And the only party which came out openly to endorse and give southern Sudanese the right to choose and decide their future through referendum is the National Congress Party (NCP) under the leadership of (Mr.) Bashir,” said Gatkuoth.