Sudan may ask the United Nations to run a referendum on the future of a politically sensitive border region after northern and southern leaders failed to appoint organisers, a party official said.
The residents of Abyei are less than seven months away from a vote on whether their border territory, close to key oilfields, should be part of north or south Sudan.
The vote has regional significance because, on the same day, the people of south Sudan have been promised a ballot on whether to separate from the north to become an independent state.
Yasir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the dominant party in the south, said northern and southern leaders had failed to agree on who should join a commission to organise the Abyei vote despite months of debate.
“So far we have failed … If it becomes clear that we cannot agree then the only way out is the United Nations,” he told Reuters.
“The problems are the names. The National Congress cannot agree. We have been giving them the names, names from the civil service and lawyers, and hopefully we can still agree.”
If Abyei residents decide to join the south they could, at a stroke, become part of Africa’s newest country, taking their oil reserves and rich grazing land out of Khartoum’s control.
Political analysts have said time is running out to organise the votes and there is a risk of violence if southerners believe the north is trying to delay or disrupt the plebiscites.
Arman, the SPLM candidate in a presidential election held in April, said his party would submit a fresh set of names in a final attempt to reach agreement.
An official from the north’s National Congress Party (NCP) said Arman was trying to increase political pressure.
“I am sure we can still bridge the gap between the NCP and the SPLM on this. We have had differences before which we have settled,” said the NCP’s Rabie Abdelati.
No one was available to comment from the United Nations.
The votes, due in January 2011, are ensured as part of a 2005 accord that ended more than two decades of north-south war.
Abyei is occupied by two main groups, the Dinka Ngok, linked to south Sudan’s Dinka people, and nomadic Misseriya Arabs, associated with the north. Northern and southern forces have clashed there since the peace deal.
Arman said the NCP and SPLM were due to discuss Abyei and other issues related to the referendum in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, this week.
Outstanding issues included the position of the north-south border, the nationality of southerners in the north and vice-versa, and the sharing of debts and oil revenues if the south, as widely expected, chooses to secede.
Pic: South Sudan President- Salva Kiir