The authorities in Sudan’s northern and southern regions should pledge not to expel minorities if Southern Sudan votes to become an independent nation in a January referendum, Human Rights Watch said.
“Both southerners in the north and northerners living in Southern Sudan told Human Rights Watch that they feared retaliation, even expulsion, if secession were approved,” the New-York based rights group said today in an e-mailed statement.
The independence vote is a key component of a 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of civil war between the Muslim north and the south, which follows Christianity and traditional beliefs. About 2 million people died in the conflict and more than 4 million were displaced. As many as 1.5 million Southern Sudanese now live in northern Sudan.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. President Barack Obama and representatives from the African Union, the World Bank and other groups are scheduled to discuss the Southern Sudan referendum at a Sept. 24 meeting in New York. Ban appointed a three-member panel, led by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, to monitor the vote, the UN said in a statement yesterday on its website.
The UN panel will also monitor a separate, simultaneous referendum in the north-south border area of Abyei on whether to remain part of Sudan’s north or join Southern Sudan, irrespective of the outcome of the southern independence vote, according to the statement.
“The panel will work directly to enhance confidence in the process by encouraging the parties and the relevant authorities to take corrective measures to resolve any significant problems or disputes that may arise,” the statement said.
The commission organizing Southern Sudan’s referendum plans to start registering voters next month, a spokesman for the body, Tarek Othman al-Taher, said on Sept. 8. The initial voters’ roll was due to be completed by the end of August, according to the referendum law passed by Sudan’s national assembly in December.
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the former southern rebel movement that now governs the semi-autonomous southern region, have not set up yet the commission to organize the vote in Abyei. Both votes are scheduled to be held on Jan. 9.
The two parties also haven’t agreed on post-referendum arrangements such as the responsibility of each region for Sudan’s foreign debt and how to share the nation’s oil wealth. Sudan’s northern and southern regions now split the proceeds from oil pumped in the south.
Oil fields in Southern Sudan account for most of the nation’s crude output, which, at 490,000 barrels a day, is the third-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
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