South Sudan walks a tightrope ahead of January referendum

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- With more than 80 ethnic communities, the referendum on the autonomy of South Sudan is seen in certain circles as the impetus the fractious region needs to relapse into conflict, but this time round it will be a civil war without the direct participation of the North,reports published here said.
The delicate situation in the Southern Sudan is a growing source of concern to the United States, which during the 20-year war that ended in 2005 supported the region that is predominantly black African, as opposed to the Arab North.
Although details are scanty, the referendum to be funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) was the subject of a recent meeting between US Vice President Joe Biden and Southern Sudan President Salva Mayardit Kiir in Nairobi.
However, given President Barack Obama's interest in the Sudan's multiple conflicts - in Western Darfur, South Kordofan, besides the south - there is no doubt that Washington supports the breakaway of the South as a means of ameliorating historical injustices.
The referendum will be one of the three to be carried out in the region, although unlike those in Zanzibar and Kenya in July and August respectively, the Sudanese one has been billed as having the major implications in terms of regional security and political stability.
The latest report by the International Crisis Group, which specialises in conflict resolution, showed that the referendum, set for January next year, will impact heavily on Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Egypt.
"If, as likely, South Sudan decides to secede from the North at its January 2011 self-determination referendum, it will need support from Sudan's neighbours to ensure the decision is respected and new conflict is prevented," ICG said.
This is because, it said, "Sudan's bordering states were involved in, or affected by its civil wars and each would be directly affected by either peaceful separation or a return to conflict.
" Although President Omer al-Bashir, upon winning the April presidential election, vowed to campaign for the unity of the South and the North, state institutions are gearing up to any eventuality.
Reached for comment, Commissioner-General of Sudan Police Forces, Gen Hashim Osman Elhussien Saad, told PANA that northerners are ready for any outcome and would respect it.
"Self-determination is granted in the CPA.
The referendum is for the South, not the North.
It is up to the South to determine where they want to belong.
The April national elections were the bigger issue compared to the referendum.
In as far as we are concerned, we are committed to the peace agreement," he said.
The referendum is an outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Naivasha in 2005, ending 20 years of brutal war between the North and the South.
The civil war ended with the signing of the agreement by the country's two dominant political forces: the northern-based National Congress Party (NCP) and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
"If, however, the process does not go according to plan - particularly if Khartoum attempts to manipulate or obstruct the exercise or its result - regional states and institutions should consider how best to respond to ensure the right of self-determination is respected and new conflict is averted,'' said ICG analyst Zach Vertin.
That means neighbouring states should be ready to engage Khartoum and Juba on practicalities of the referendum and peaceful implementation of its outcome.
However, the police boss contends that such fears are unfounded.
"The psychological structure of the Sudanese people is such that they are aware of their responsibilities.
The negative tag war and instability is the creation of foreign organisations that have vested interests in the country.
This experience includes other African countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, but it is up to us Africans to clean up our image by reversing foreign interference in African affairs," the police boss said.
Critical to the secession of the South, according to a new report compiled by the US Institute of Peace entitled 'Scenarios for Sudan: Avoiding Political Violence Through 2011', is the fact that an acute of lack of skilled manpower would impact negatively on service delivery.
"The South lacks the capacity to deliver needed services, including the equitable allocation of basic resources (e.
roads, water, and food).
The South instead spends the bulk of its oil revenues on its military and other security expenses in an effort to maintain order and provide a deterrent against the North and significant corruption is reportedly on the rise.
" "Whether or not independence is proclaimed, the referendum itself is an insufficient 'peace dividend'.
Expectations of improved living conditions cannot be deferred indefinitely," said the institute's report, which was funded by the US Congress.
A return to conflict can be slowed or avoided if, according to ICG, "IGAD's members will likely be the first to make any recommendations regarding Southern Sudan's post-referendum status, but ensuring AU participation in, and ultimate backing of, that policy is crucial if an independent South is to secure maximum legitimacy.

17 june 2010 07:48:00

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