- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

KHARTOUM, Sudan | Sudan’s leaders have settled their differences Sunday over the hotly disputed 2011 referendum on southern independence, the official news agency reported, clearing a main hurdle facing the fragile 4-year-old North-South peace deal.

The referendum bill has been straining relations between the former rivals for months.

Northern officials have demanded at least 75 percent of registered southern voters turn out in order for the referendum results to be valid. The South insists on a lower threshold.

At stake is the output of oil fields throughout the border region between the two Sudans - the Islamist-ruled North and the non-Muslim South.

Senior southern official Pagan Amum said President Omar Bashir and the southern President Silva Kiir met with their political advisers and finally agreed on the bill.

The two sides also agreed on the referendum rules for three areas laying on the yet undemarcated north-south border, including the oil-rich region of Abyei.

“We announce with this agreement the end of the disagreement between the (northern) National Congress Party and the (southern) Sudan People Liberation Movement over the three laws (on the referendum for the border areas). We will present them to the Parliament in two days,” Mr. Amum said, according to the official SUNA news agency.

He didn’t explain how the differences were settled. Southern officials said they are holding a party meeting to discuss the agreements.

The 2005 peace deal ended more than 20 years of civil war in which 2 million people perished.

The peace deal also created a national unity government and a semiautonomous South. It provides for nationwide parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in April, and a referendum in 2011 to determine whether the South wanted to secede from the Arabized North.

As part of the peace deal, the two parties agreed to work to make unity attractive. But southerners, increasingly frustrated at the lack of peace dividends, have openly favored independence.

Many northerners fear the secession of the oil-rich South would deprive their government of the much prized oil revenues.

Last month, Mr. Kiir called on his people to vote for secession in the referendum if they do not want to end up as second-class citizens. His call, the first ever favoring a split, angered his northern partner and was described as a violation of the spirit of the peace deal.

Southern officials complain the north is reneging on many elements of the peace deal, including power and resource sharing and abolishing laws that violate freedoms of expression and religion.

The partners are still bogged down in disagreement over the law regulating the responsibilities of the powerful national security services. Southerners and other opposition groups say the law in place grants the security agencies wide-sweeping powers, and undermines free and fair elections scheduled for April.

Mr. Amum and other southern officials were briefly detained last week for participating in a rally demanding changes to the law.

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