Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir ordered the expulsion of armed Darfur rebels from his own territory five days before a referendum on its independence, the state-run SUNA news agency reported.
Kiir’s announcement yesterday came shortly after Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir pledged to respect the results of the referendum and maintain peace with Southern Sudan during a visit to its capital, Juba.
Kiir said his expulsion order guaranteed that “no opposition in the north shall take Juba as a base,” according to the Khartoum-based SUNA.
The vote, which starts Jan. 9, is the centerpiece of a 2005 peace accord that ended two decades of civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the oil-producing south, where Christianity and traditional religions dominate. About 2 million people died in the conflict and 4 million fled their homes.
Darfur, located in northwestern Sudan, has been the scene of a separate rebellion against the central government. That government, based in Khartoum, has accused the southern region of assisting and giving refuge to armed Darfur rebels.
“If the south chooses independence, we will come and congratulate and celebrate with you,” Bashir said yesterday in a statement in Juba, according to a live translation of his remarks in Arabic by Al Jazeera. “We are of the opinion that enforcing unity by force has failed.”
Bashir’s government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which governs in Southern Sudan, must still reach agreement on issues such as border demarcation, apportioning responsibility for the country’s $38 billion foreign debt and sharing income from oil production.
Unity is ‘Best’
“We also believe that unity is for the benefit of both north and south,” Bashir said, according to the translation by Al Jazeera. “We maintain that unity is the best way to ensure progress, stability and the welfare of all the people of Sudan.”
Southern Sudan accounts for as much as 80 percent of Sudan’s 490,000 barrels of daily oil production, while all of the country’s crude exports are carried through a pipeline running north to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Sudan, Africa’s largest country by area, is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
Ballot papers should reach all of the more than 2,600 polling stations by Jan. 4, Chan Reec Madut, the deputy head of the commission organizing the referendum, told reporters Jan. 3 in Juba. More than 3.9 million people have registered to vote in the week-long plebiscite, he said.
Violence exploded in Darfur in 2003 when mostly African rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of marginalizing the region. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, according to United Nations estimates.