Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libya has yet to comment over South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s announcement that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has pledged his support to Southern Sudan if it votes for independence in the 2011 referendum. This is an announcement that is likely to cause anger in Northern Sudan.
Officials in the Libyan Foreign Ministry declined to comment on President Kiir’s announcement however Libyan sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that statements made by Colonel Gaddafi are often misunderstood. The source informed Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from the Libyan city of Sirte that the official Libyan position is one promoting Sudanese unity and sovereignty over its own territory. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that “Colonel Gaddafi has not been known for supporting the secession of Southern Sudan, or dividing the country between the North and the South; on the contrary he has advocated unity and rejected fragmentation”
Kiir informed a Church congregation on Sunday that during a 3 am meeting with Gaddafi during his visit to Tripoli last week, the Libyan leader has assured him of Libya’s support should southern Sudan decide to secede from the North. In a recording of this address published by Reuters, Kiir said “He [Gaddafi] said ‘If southerners want to vote for independence they should not be frightened of anybody and … I will stand with them.'”
During this speech by Salva Kiir at the Cathedral of Saint Teresa in the Southern capital of Juba, the President of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan said that Gaddafi had also informed him that it was a mistake for the people of Southern Sudan to unite with the North after the end of British colonial rule in 1956 and that Gaddafi said that “they should have been separated either to become an independent state or join any country in east Africa.”
Kiir also said that Gaddafi had pledged to send Libyan experts to Southern Sudan in order to aid in reconstruction of the region’s infrastructure and agriculture.
A high ranking Libyan official informed Asharq Al-Awsat that he believed that Colonel Gaddafi’s comments may have been taken out of context. The source also stressed that Colonel Gaddafi’s opinion is that the result of the January 2011 referendum in Southern Sudan should be respected, but this is not support for secession.
The source added “Libya is one of the first countries that consistently called for attractive factors to be provided to the South in order for it to remain within a united Sudan.”
Colonel Gaddafi met with the First Vice President of Sudan, Salva Kiir, last week, during Kiir’s two-day visit to Libya. The Libyan news agency [JANA] reported on Tuesday that the two leaders had discussed the crisis in Darfur, stressing that finding a solution to this crisis is a priority. JANA also reported that Gaddafi stressed that everything must be done to ensure Sudanese unity, and that the Libyan leader had renewed calls to various parties, especially those in Darfur, to use the language of reason, undertake dialogue, renounce violence, and accept the African peace proposals.
Successive governments in Sudan have had a troubled relationship with Libya and this has been further complicated by Gaddafi’s plans to expand his influence in the Arab and African worlds.
Sudan’s southern region is due to vote in a referendum in January 2011 on whether to secede from Northern Sudan. This referendum was set up in a peace deal that ended over twenty years of civil war between northern and southern Sudan.
The referendum is an extremely sensitive issue in Sudan, and Khartoum will be suspicious of any external interference, particularly from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who had had a fractious relationship with successive Sudanese governments.
Salva Kiir’s announcement came the day before the Libyan leader was due to host a meeting of the African Union that he chairs, and which will be attended by Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Libya was previously accused of providing arms to the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] in the early 1980s in an attempt to undermine previous Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiri. Libya was also accused of trying to increase its influence in Sudan’s Darfur region as part of a project to create pan-Arab solidarity across the Sahara.
Gaddafi was one of the first leaders to come out in support of al-Bashir after the International Criminal Court [ICC] had issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of orchestrating the atrocities committed in Darfur. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the north-south civil war created a coalition government in Khartoum, and also set up a semi-autonomous government in the south. In addition to setting up the forthcoming referendum, the peace agreement also promised national elections, which are scheduled for February 2010.