Thursday, 7 October 2010

Southern Sudan referendum timetable announced

The south is expected to vote for independence

Sudanese officials have announced a timetable for Southern Sudan's independence referendum. The vote is due to take place on 9th January, 2011, but the absence of a timetable outlining the run-up to the vote led to fears that the referendum would have to be postponed, which could spark renewed violence.

Deputy Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Chan Reec Madut said on Tuesday 5th October that voter registration will start on 14th November and end on 4th December, with parties allowed to start campaigning on 7th December.

Despite the tight timing this schedule provides, Reec was confident about the prospects. "I am still optimistic that if we are all registered, everybody has his or her card, and then we can be sure that this exercise is going to happen no matter what," Reec told reporters in the southern capital Juba. He added that only 'unseen reasons' could cause the vote to be delayed.

Despite this announcement, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir told UN Security Council delegates, who are visiting the region, that the south may have to organise its own referendum if the north disrupted the vote. The south has repeatedly accused the north of trying to delay the ballot to keep control of the region's oil, a charge Khartoum denies.

The poll will take place across Sudan, but only southerners will be eligible to vote. The southern Sudanese diaspora will also be able to vote in eight other countries, assisted by the intergovernmental International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The vote will take place in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.

Voter registration material is bring printed in South Africa, and ballot papers will also be printed outside Sudan with security devices fitted to prevent fraud.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of conflict between the north and oil-rich south, in which some 1.5 million people died and millions more were displaced.

Preparations, however, for a separate referendum in the Abyei region, which straddles north and south Sudan, are making less headway. UN-mediated talks are being held in Ethiopia to try to resolve disputes over voter eligibiliy and the physical demarcation of the state's border. The Abyei referendum is also due to be held on 9th January, and people of the region will choose whether to join the north or the south.

The announcement by Reec came as 15 members of the UN Security Council visited the region to make sure the referendums go ahead on time and in a fair and peaceful manner. The delegation will also be travelling to Darfur, where there has been renewed violence after the breakdown of a ceasefire between the government and one of the main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The delegation almost cancelled their trip because council members worried that they would have to meet Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and shake his hand, but the trip went ahead after it was agreed that a meeting would not happen. Al-Bashir has been indicted for alleged war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AfricaNews
For more information on the situation in South Sudan, please see the original story here.

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