Sudan: Referendum commission makes progress

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South Sudan has agreed to allow a northern Sudanese to head the special referendum commission giving room for progress on plans for the January 9 southern vote on independence from the north. Observers say a further delay could have sparked violent protests by southerners throughout Sudan.

The debate over who should be the secretary general of the commission for the referendum had caused negotiations to stall, as mistrust and suspicion shrouded the politicking of northern and southern Sudan authorities.

However South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) said it would accept a northerner to take the post of secretary-general.

Mohamed Osman al-Nujoomi of northern Sudan, who had previously worked in the finance ministry, would be appointed to the position by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

“We agreed – we had only one person that was brought this morning and we agreed that he should be the secretary-general,” commission member Lual Chany who is of southern Sudan’s SPLM told Reuters.

According to the United Nations, over 2 million people died in the civil war in which the mostly Christian and Animist south fought the Islamist Khartoum government in the north over ethnicity, ideology and oil.

Despite the progress made the issues surrounding the referendum of independence remain fickle. There are four committees tackling sensitive post-referendum issues including the division of oil wealth and defining citizenship but little progress has been made.

The two party leaders, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir, have failed to agree on the disputed north-south border or oil-producing Abyei region.

The south wants the UN to investigate reports which claim that north is funding the settlement of nomadic Arab Missiriya tribesmen in the disputed Abyei region to change the demographic ahead of the January referendum.

The International Crisis Group think tank told reporters on Thursday that some of the border areas were “dangerously militarized” and that a small, mobile, monitoring force along the north-south border in time for the referendum to supplement or replace UNMIS may help.

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