JUBA, (AFP) — South Sudan’s ruling party formally confirmed for the first time on Saturday that it will support secession in a January independence referendum that could lead to the break-up of Africa’s largest nation.
“Since unity has not been made attractive, we are promoting what our people choose because we are following the people,” said Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the southern branch of the Sudan Peoples? Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Asked to clarify, she told reporters: “Separation.”
Almost three million people have signed up to vote in southern Sudan’s independence referendum set for January 9, organisers of the vote said on Wednesday at the close of registration.
The registration process was launched on November 15 for a two-week period but later extended by a week because of high demand in the south and to encourage a bigger turnout by southerners living in northern Sudan.
The referendum is a key plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.
Most analysts expect the south to vote to break away and split the country in two.
Itto made clear that the stand in support of independence was that of the SPLM in the south, where the vast majority of voters live, not of the party in the north.
Under the terms of the CPA, both the ex-rebel SPLM and the northern ruling National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir were bound to work to make “unity attractive.”
But Itto said the time for such efforts was now over.
“They (NCP) choose to campaign for unity, we will choose to campaign for what the people want,” she told reporters at the SPLM office in the southern capital of Juba.
Itto stood at a podium covered with posters showing only the ballot symbol for separation — an open, waving hand.
“NCP has made unity very, very, very unattractive,” Itto said. “Now, who would want to go there and tell people lies?
“SPLM knows that unity has not been made attractive.”
But Itto said progress was slow on remaining key issues that still have to be hammered out between north and south before polling day.
These include the final demarcation of the border between north and south, the sharing of oil revenues and the status of southerners in the north and northerners in the south if the region votes to break away.
“We have not made any progress,” said Itto. “We have had several meetings with no success at all, not in security, not in international treaties, not in finance, economic issues, natural resources, not even in citizenship.
“If you add all that together it is a clear indication as to how NCP doesn?t want to get to referendum,” she added.
Talks are due to resume on Monday in the effort to find a breakthrough on the contested area of Abyei, which is also due to hold a referendum on January 9 on whether it lies in the north or south.
Meanwhile, a group considered close to the NCP has filed a complaint in a constitutional court against the SPLM and the referendum commission for “violating referendum laws” during the registration process, media reported.
The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) chairman Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil criticised the move as “unethical,” adding that the court was also not the right place for complaints.
“They are trying to create an environment of doubt around the referendum process,” Khalil told AFP.
“Anyone who has a complaint about the registration has to go to the commission first, then if they are not satisfied they can go to an appeal court.”