Sudan’s foreign minister said the country’s oil-producing south “overwhelmingly” wanted to declare independence in a looming referendum.
Deng Alor, a southerner, also accused the north of fighting a proxy war and destroying hopes of a unified state.
The comments were made at a highly-charged symposium on Sudan’s future that analysts said lifted the lid on a growing political rift in Africa’s largest state. His statements were dismissed by a leading northerner.
Sudan’s mostly Muslim north fought a two-decade civil war with southerners, who largely follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.
A 2005 peace deal created a north/south coalition government and promised the south a vote in 2011 on whether to secede.
Alor told the UN-sponsored conference that north Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) continued to oppress southerners and was arming southern militias behind a recent wave of tribal violence.
NCP presidential advisor Ghazi Salaheddin responded by accusing Alor of paranoia, saying the south had also failed to hold up its part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Analysts at the conference said the statements underlined the political distance between the NCP and Alor’s former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) just 14 months ahead of the referendum, saying hopes for a southern vote to stay in Sudan were now as good as dead.
“I don’t think their positions can be reconciled,” said Sudan expert Alex de Waal.
“Southerners if asked now they will overwhelmingly vote for separation,” Alor told reporters after the symposium.
He said there was still a remote chance of a unity vote if Khartoum changed its approach and treated the south as an equal.
“You don’t give them services and you fight them by proxy. How can these people vote for unity?” Alor asked the Khartoum audience. “It is sad for many of us to see our country disintegrate before our eyes.”
The north denies arming tribes.
Alor called for a “peaceful divorce” if the south split.
Salaheddin said both sides should honour the promise made in the peace deal to campaign for unity.
“It is not in the interest of our people whether in northern Sudan or southern Sudan to be paranoid, to be under the spell of illusions of persecution, to be despondent to the extent of going for secession,” he said.
Pic: President Salva Kirr of South Sudan