KHARTOUM, (AFP) — Bitter political disputes and brinkmanship over referenda scheduled for January on the possible breakup of Sudan could spark a new civil war, a research institute warned in a study published Friday.
“At this final stage, brinkmanship, delays and broken agreements — old traditions of Sudanese politics — threaten to turn the political and technical challenges of the referenda into a national disaster,” said the Rift Valley Institute (RVI).
Africa’s biggest nation is scheduled to stage two ballots on January 9: one on the independence of southern Sudan and the other on whether the oil-rich region of Abyei should link up with the north or south.
The two votes are the centrepiece of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and Juba that ended the continent’s longest-running civil war and gave former southern rebels a share in government.
But many Western nations fear the possibility of renewed conflict as the referendum commission struggles to organise the ballots just 10 weeks before they are supposed to be staged.
In its report, the institute argued a new agreement is needed between the National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the former southern rebel Sudan People?s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
“A timely and successful conclusion to the self-determination process in southern Sudan and in Abyei could be a vindication for both signatories to the CPA, and for its international guarantors,” said the 65-page study.
“It would open the way to normalisation of relations with Western donor countries and international institutions and peace between two likely new states in Sudan,” said the RVI.
“Failure could mean a return to war,” warned the report entitled “Race Against Time.”
On Monday, Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, also warned of a “return to war” in the country if the vote is held in Abyei without a final accord from the Khartoum government.
The RVI said “only concerted international attention and skilful diplomacy can bring the process of self-determination in Sudan to a successful conclusion.”
The institute, which has offices in Britain and the United States, describes itself as a non-profit research, education and advocacy organisation which operates in Sudan, the Horn of Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes.
Meanwhile, the US-based Carter Centre said in a statement it “notes progress but urges critical steps to ensure credible voter registration and referenda processes in Sudan.”
Officials were urged to “accelerate preparations” for voter registration, including the training of staff and clarification of eligibility requirements, as well as expansion of voter education.
“The public, northern and southern Sudanese alike, lack a clear sense of how voting will be structured and what the implications of the two possible outcomes — unity or secession — will be for their future,” said the centre, headed by former US president Jimmy Carter.