Sudan: Significant progress on referendum for independence

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Pressure from the United States government has forced the Sudanese National Congress Party (NCP) to pass a significant law that paves the way for a referendum on South Sudan’s independence from the North.

The law passed on Tuesday now stipulates that southerners living in the north will be allowed to vote there if they were born after 1956 but those born before that date will have to register and vote in the south.

The struggle and tension for this referendum to be passed has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and 250,000 displaced people this year alone. Overall, the 22-year war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south has claimed the lives of some 1.5 million people.

According to reports, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) had feared the north would manipulate the vote if southerners who had not lived in southern Sudan since independence in 1956 had been allowed to vote anywhere.

The referendum, set for January 2011, is an integral part of the peace deal signed in 2005 which ended two decades of civil war.

Analysts believe that the south will vote for independence. However, concerns remain over the tensions and problems regarding the border between the north and south, as the status of some areas has not yet been clearly defined.

Also there are serious concerns in southern Sudan, as different ethnic groups continue to fight over land, and this would increase tensions in the run-up to the referendum and a general election in April.

Prior to this significant law of a referendum for independence, NCP northern politicians tried to amend a section of the referendum bill about where people could vote last week, but the southern MPs walked out of parliament. This attempted manipulation by the north prompted the United States to put pressure on the NC headed by President Omar al-Bashir.

With a referendum for independence in place, SPLM leader Mr. Salva Kiir warned southerners that if they voted against independence they would become second-class citizens in their own country.

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