South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM) said southerners were determined to vote on January 9 on secession despite a request by the referendum’s organising commission for a three-week delay.
Southerners won the right to choose whether to separate from the north and form a new east African nation in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war that killed at least 2 million people. Most analysts expect a majority to vote to secede.
As January 9 approaches tension continues to escalate with accusations of voter intimidation, disputed bombings along the border and a wave of aggressive rhetoric stoking uncertainty on both sides of the still contested north-south border,.Reuters reports.
This week Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, head of the organising commission (SSRC), told fellow board members he would write to Sudan’s president and the leader of the south asking for a delay, fearing it was impossible to finish the job by January 9.
Khalil also requested the United Nations to reopen a bid to print the ballot papers to include Sudanese firms, which would cause a delay of more than two weeks.
The SPLM reacted furiously on Saturday, saying the northern ruling party (NCP) had pursued delaying tactics throughout the referendum process. But it said the south had since received assurances the vote will still go ahead on January 9.
OIL WEALTH AT STAKE
Leaders in the south, whose people are mainly Christian or animist in faith, accused the mainly Muslim north of trying to stall the emotional vote to preserve control of the south’s oil.
About three-quarters of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels per day of crude comes from wells in the south. The wealth was shared under the 2005 deal but if the south secedes, the north risks losing lose most of its major source of foreign currency revenue.
“This delay which has been requested by the chairman of the SSRC may be either in his own interest or he is trying to carry out the interest of NCP,” said senior SPLM official Anne Itto.
“We have been given assurances by the (United Nations) … that it will be possible to print and distribute the polling materials to all centres in Sudan and the diaspora ahead of January 9,” she said. “This is what they have promised.”
Itto warned that any delay to the January 9 date – which has taken on huge symbolic significance in the south – would not be accepted by southerners. “The south Sudanese people are not willing to delay voting even by a single day,” she said.
The referendum organising commission has nine members — five southerners and the others northerners, including Khalil.
More than three million people have so far registered to vote in the south, Itto said. Registration ends on December 8.
Southerners marched in the capital Juba this week, protesting against any possible delay.
Some NCP officials warn that south Sudan is not ready for independence and could descend into internal conflict if it became independent next year with political and tribal rivalries running deep between southerners.
In 2009 more than 2,500 people died in internal southern clashes. In a reconciliation effort, South Sudan President Salva Kiir declared an amnesty for all southern rebel groups this year which most have accepted, creating a much-needed lull in south-on-south violence ahead of the January 9 vote.
But on Saturday George Athor, a former senior southern army (SPLA) general who turned rogue and clashed with the SPLA after disputed April elections, said the army had kidnapped one of his men despite the truce.
“The SPLA has violated the ceasefire…yesterday evening they … have taken one of our men hostage,” Athor told Reuters by telephone, adding it seemed Kiir could not control his army. An SPLA spokesman denied the attack, saying Kiir was sending a delegation to hold talks with Athor.