Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir has ruled out a return to war with the North irrespective of the outcome of his region’s independence referendum which begins today.
Addressing a press conference at his Juba palace on Saturday, Mr Kiir said there was no alternative to peaceful co-existence anywhere in the world.
“There will be no return to war. The referendum is not an end of a journey, but the beginning of another long journey of positive development,’’ said Mr Kiir.
He appealed to the Southern Sudanese to come out in large numbers wherever they were to vote in the week-long exercise that will determine whether or not they remain part of what is currently Africa’s largest state.
“I promise you an atmosphere of peace and calm as you exercise your democratic right,’’ he told his fellow Southern Sudanese.
The plebiscite, in which 3,930,000 registered voters are expected to participate, is the culmination of a five-year unitary state experiment for the Sudanese, prescribed by a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the country’s warring factions.
Mr Kiir’s sentiment came even as President Omar al-Bashir warned that Southern Sudan will face instability if it votes to secede from the North.
The BBC quoted President al-Bashir as telling Al-Jazeera Television the South did not have the ability to create a stable state or provide for its citizens.
In comments expected to infuriate the Southern leadership, Mr al-Bashir said: “The south does not have the ability to provide for its citizens, or create a state or authority.”
“The south suffers from many problems. It’s been at war since 1959. They believe that the cause of all this suffering is that the south is under the control of the north and they think that they can only end this suffering by separating the north from the south,” he said.
US Senator John Kerry also addressed the press conference, saying that President Barack Obama’s administration was fully committed to supporting all Sudanese for a better future. Mr Kerry commended the entire Sudanese leadership and other stakeholders for making the referendum a reality.
He expressed optimism that all the outstanding issues, particularly the Abyei border dispute, would be resolved by the Sudanese amicably.
Euphoria gripped the regional capital Juba on the eve of the launch of the week-long polling as people feted the looming end of the long and often difficult countdown.
Seize the opportunity
At candle-lit roadside tea stalls and outside darkened corrugated-iron shacks, one of the world’s most impoverished populations sat around late into the night eagerly waiting to seize the opportunity to break away from rule by Khartoum.
But the celebrations were dented by deadly clashes between the southern army and renegade militiamen in remote Unity State on the border with the north, whose oilfields were a key fighting point in the 1983-2005 civil war.
Southern troops killed six militiamen and captured 32 in the two days of fighting without sustaining casualties, military spokesman Philip Aguer said.
Unity state is an area where renegade militiamen remain active, and the bloodshed highlighted the fragility of the uneasy peace that has been established over most of the south.
The regional government deployed 60,000 troops and police for polling day as it welcomed a host of world figures, including Hollywood actor George Clooney and former US president Jimmy Carter as well as Western envoys.
The deputy chairman of the referendum organising commission, Chan Reec, told a news conference in Juba that all the preparations for the “historic moment” had been made.
“This is something that has never happened ever since the world was called to creation,” Reec said. “Nobody ever bothered to ask the people of south Sudan as to what their destiny should be.”
Thousands attended an array of free events in the city, including a “final walk to freedom” concert at which local musicians, including former child soldier turned international singer Emmanuel Jal, performed songs about peace and freedom.
“It is the contribution of the artists to the nation of south Sudan,” said singer Mabior Mach.
The conflict between the Muslim, mainly Arab north, and the mainly Christian south, has blighted Africa’s largest nation virtually since independence from Britain in 1956. It has been fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources, particularly oil.
But for southerners the idea that they cannot run their own affairs, however blighted they have been by the long years of conflict, is anathema.
To make the point, Kiir signed 16 measures into law in front of the international press on Friday in a move his spokesman said showed the sovereignty of the south and “clears the legal vacuum.” (AFP)