South Sudan’s main party accused the north of fresh bombing attacks on its territory on Monday and Tuesday, saying Khartoum was trying to take the country back to war and wreck an independence referendum.
Sudan’s northern army denied mounting any attacks and UN ceasefire monitors were not immediately available for comment.
Political tensions are mounting a month ahead of the scheduled start of a referendum on whether the country’s oil- producing south should secede or stay in Sudan, a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south war, Reuters reports.
“The Government of Sudan and the (north’s dominant) National Congress Party has continued bombing south Sudan especially in Western Bahr al-Ghazal from yesterday up to today,” the secretary general of the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Pagan Amum told reporters.
“It is clear that the National Congress Party is implementing a plan to take Sudan back to war so to avoid the … the conduct of the referendum on self-determination,” he added, calling on the U.N. Security Council to investigate the attacks.
The southern army accused the north of bombing inside its border several times in November, saying Khartoum wanted to disrupt the vote, scheduled for January 9, to keep control of the south’s oil. The north said it accidentally dropped bombs once as it battled Darfur rebels just over the border in the north but has denied all other reports.
“The Sudanese army did not attack any place in Bahr al- Ghazal. There has been no fighting,” the northern army’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
Preparations for the referendum have been dogged by logistical problems but both the United Nations and the vote’s organising commission have cut corners and compressed timetables to try to meet the deadline.
Officials on Tuesday said the referendum could happen on time as they gave British company Tall Security Group a tender to print and deliver ballots by Christmas day.
The company won the tender from among 12 groups with a bid of almost $230,000 and had undertaken to deliver the ballots within 12 days of signing the contract, said the head of information at the referendum commission, George Makuer.
“This means we can make January 9 and all the ballot papers will be ready in the voting centres inside and outside Sudan,” Makuer told reporters.
Denis Kadima, the UN official in charge of referendum arrangements, told Reuters the ballots would need to be in Sudan before December 25 to be distributed to voting centres in time.
But he added they would need to wait until the voter registration was completed and fully counted before they could tell the company how many ballot papers needed to be printed.
Makuer said it could take up to a week after voter registration ends on December 8 to get final numbers from all parts of the remote south.
Sudan’s north-south war was fuelled by differences over religion, ethnicity, oil and ideology. It destabilised much of east Africa and the continent is anxious to keep Sudan at peace.