South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir named his new cabinet, creating a Ministry of Peace as the oil-producing region prepared for a referendum that could see it split away as an independent country.
Southerners are widely expected to choose secession in the vote promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that created a semi-autonomous southern government and ended more than two decades of civil war with the north.
Kiir named Pagan Amum, the former secretary-general of his dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), as the south’s new minister of peace and CPA implementation, according to a copy of the presidential decree seen by Reuters.
It is expected Amum will take a leading role in the countdown to the referendum.
Northern and southern leaders have yet to resolve flashpoint issues such as the position of their shared border and the sharing out of oil revenues and debts in the event of a split.
Analysts and UN sources have said there is a risk of a return to war if southerners feel the north is trying to obstruct or delay the referendum, scheduled for January 2011, to keep control of the region’s oil reserves.
The run up to the vote has been marred by a spike in tribal fighting and rebellions by at least three militia leaders angry at the results of elections in April.
A repeat of the disarray seen at the elections could muddy the results of the referendum, leaving other countries in a quandary over whether to recognise the new state.
“The basic challenge (for the southern government) is making the referendum happen, and making it happen properly,” said John Ryle, from the Rift Valley Institute research organisation.
“It is going to be very difficult. A lot of people are beginning to call for a postponement. And it is possible. But there is a very strong feeling in the south that this (the referendum) is what their whole conflict has been for.”
The new cabinet was announced two months after Kiir held on to the southern presidency with a 92% share of the vote.
Carter Center Observers said southern voters “faced a high incidence of intimidation and the threat or use of force” during the polling.
Kiir named SPLM member Garang Ding Akuong as the south’s minister for energy.
Deng Alor, Sudan’s former foreign minister in the national government in Khartoum, took up a new job in the southern capital Juba as the south’s minister of regional cooperation, according to the presidential decree.
The list included seven female ministers and created a number of new ministries including Investment and Humanitarian Affairs combined with Disasters Management.
Two southern ministries were reserved for north Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) — Environment and Wildlife combined with Tourism — but the decree did not include the names of the ministers.
Sudan’s overall president and NCP leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir, facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over charges of ordering war crimes in Darfur, was also returned to power in the April poll.
Pic: South Sudan troops