Friday, January 14, 2011

Sudan National Congress Party Ready for South's Independence

Published on The Jakarta Post (

Sudan: Ruling party ready for south's independence

The Jakarta Post
Sat, 01/15/2011 3:52 PM

Sudan's ruling party is ready to accept southern independence if voters decide to divide the country as expected, a senior northern official said Friday.

The comments by Ibrahim Ghandour - which came a day before the end of a weeklong referendum on the issue - raised hopes that the central government won't contest the results that are likely to split Africa's largest nation in two, stripping the north of the majority of its oil fields.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has sought to play down fears of potential violence in recent weeks, saying the north will accept a vote for secession, provided the voting is fair.

Ghandour, from the ruling National Congress Party, said the voting has been going "in a very smooth and acceptable way." He said it is easy to assume that the south is going to secede.

"We in NCP will accept the result of the referendum and we look forward for brotherly relations with the newly born state," he said.

He said al-Bashir and Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir, who is also al-Bashir's vice president, are expected to meet in Khartoum in the coming days to discuss unresolved post-independence issues, including the flashpoint area of Abyei.

Independence of the south won't be finalized until July, and many issues are yet to be worked out. They include north-south oil rights, water rights to the White Nile, border demarcation and the status of the contested region of Abyei, a north-south border region where the biggest threat of a return to conflict exists.

The U.S. has offered Sudan's Khartoum-based government a range of incentives if it accepts the results of the referendum peacefully and resolves the outstanding issues, including the removal from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. But further improvement of ties will depend on progress toward peace in the separate conflict in Darfur, U.S. officials said.

The north and south fought a two-decade war that killed 2 million people before a 2005 peace agreement.

Sudan will lose a third of its land and nearly a quarter of its population if the south secedes. Khartoum's only consolation will be that the pipelines to get the oil to market all run through its territory.

Southern officials said the threshold of 60 percent of the 3.9 million registered voters required for the independence referendum to be valid has been surpassed.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters: "So far, voting has proceeded smoothly, without major incidents. Turnout has been strong."

Meanwhile, the top U.N. official overseeing the voting, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, said in an interview Friday with U.N. Radio that the voting has gone smoothly.

He said the referendum "process has gone remarkably well. Attendance has been high. Security has been assured but unobtrusive. Ballot papers have been adequate. And the results should begin coming in early next week."

U.S. envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said Friday that the process to remove Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism can begin as soon as the results are accepted. The process may be completed by July - the end of the interim period for the north and south - because it requires intelligence and other agencies' clearance.

"I am confident that if this referendum is judged to have fulfilled the will of the people, that the United States will fulfill its part of the bargain and continue with a removal from state sponsors of terrorism," Gration said.

Gration said negotiations to reach a separate cease-fire with Darfur rebels will continue even though the government has pulled its delegation from the talks.

Negotiations between the Sudanese government and rebel groups from the western Darfur region were launched in Qatar in February 2009 but renewed fighting and disagreements derailed a possible deal that negotiators hoped to strike before the end of 2010.

As many as 300,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict, which is entering its eighth year. The fighting also left some 2.7 million people displaced inside Darfur and in neighboring Chad.

Gration said shuttle diplomacy by the U.N.-African Union joint mediator and the Qataris will continue between the rebels and government.

Ghandour, al-Bashir's ruling party official, said government officials are ready to return to talks once an understanding is reached.

Gration said he discussed security with the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur how to facilitate the involvement of the civilian population in Darfur-based talks, and improve security.

The 26,000-strong mission is nearly fully deployed, with up to 89 percent of its military personnel and more than 80 percent of its police units on the ground.

Ambassador Dane Smith, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to Darfur, accompanied Gration on his first trip to Darfur since his December nomination.

Gration said Smith's appointment means "a larger foot print" and more U.S. involvement in the conflict.

— JP

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