Southern Sudan president warns of return to violence if independence votes not held in January

By Maggie Fick, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

S Sudan president warns of violence over Jan. vote

JUBA, Sudan — The president of Southern Sudan on Friday warned cheering crowds of a return to violence “on a massive scale” if the region’s independence referendum — now 100 days away — is not held on time.

President Salva Kiir’s return to this dusty, former war garrison town follows meetings at the U.N. last week that focused new attention on the region in the run-up to a Jan. 9 vote on independence.

Kiir predicted the south’s vote will pass overwhelmingly. The border region of Abyei — where much of Sudan’s oil is located — holds a similar vote the same day, in which voters will choose whether the region will join Sudan’s north or a possible new country in the south.

“Delay or denial of the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei risks dangerous instability,” Kiir said, according to prepared remarks. “There is without question a real risk of a return to violence on a massive scale if the referenda do not go ahead as scheduled.”

Tensions between north and south are high over stalled preparations for both the southern referendum and the separate vote for Abyei. The Obama administration has labeled it “inevitable” the south will declare independence, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also called the issue a “ticking time bomb.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday that the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, would participate Sunday in a meeting on Sudan in Ethiopia. Crowley said Clinton talked Friday about Sudan with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who “pledged to Secretary Clinton that he would likewise do everything he could to encourage the parties to reach an agreement on Abyei.”

Gration also has plans to meet with Meles before Sunday’s meeting.

Clinton also spoke Thursday with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha to encourage the ruling National Congress Party, based in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, to come to “Addis Ababa on Sunday prepared to negotiate and to make sure that the negotiating team will have specific authority to reach agreement on Abyei,” Crowley said.

“We are very conscious of the fact that we have just about 100 days remaining, and Abyei is one of the central issues that has to be resolved before we can hope for a successful referenda early in 2011,” Crowley said.

Speaking before a crowd of about 1,000 people, Kiir appealed to the armies and people of Sudan to shun war, saying that he is not a coward but only those who have not been in war “still drill for it.” He said the south was willing to negotiate with the north.

Leaders from the north and south meet this weekend in Ethiopia in search for solutions surrounding the January votes. The north-south border must still be demarcated and agreements made over oil wealth, much of which is located in the south.

At Kiir’s arrival at the airport, traditional dancers performed on the runway and Kiir released white doves into the air. A white bull — a southern cultural emblem of prosperity — was slaughtered as Kiir’s plane landed.

Juba residents lined the streets to welcome Kiir, and one youth group wore T-shirts that saying: “The referendum is your golden chance for total independence.”

Sudan has been wracked by decades of war. A 2005 peace agreement ended the north-south conflict that killed 2 million people but by then the western Darfur region was at war. The referendum for the south’s independence is part of the peace agreement.

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