South Sudan referendum could be postponed

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A successful January 9 referendum on independence for Southern Sudan will be a “miracle”, according to the Sudanese electoral commission chairman Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil. But while the electoral commission is facing issues with logistics, postponing the elections raises the fear of renewed clashes between the North and South.

Southern Sudan’s independence referendum scheduled to take place early 2011 is likely to be postponed.

“Holding the referendum on time will need a miracle because of the difficulties and tight timeline,” warned the electoral commission chairman Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil at a press conference on Thursday.

Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil’s statement throws serious doubts over Southern Sudan’s self-determination referendum, the crux of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which ended more than 20 years of civil war between North and South.

The question of whether or not to add the oil-rich region of Abyei in southern Sudan will also to be decided through the ballot on the same day, January 9, 2011.

According to the electoral commission chief, logistical problems could lead to a postponement of the crucial polls. “The process faces several difficulties. The referendum could start on time but we don’t even have a single day as a margin for manoeuvre. If an unforeseen problem arises, it will cause a problem for the timetable” Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil is quoted as saying by AFP.

And contrary to an indication by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that it had spent over 7 million dollars towards the referenda, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil says the commission has not received any funds from the international organization.

Risk of confrontation

A one day delay for voter registration, initially scheduled for 14 November, has been attributed to the fact that the commission had received registration forms, printed in South Africa, a day late (24 instead of 23 October). According to him, the one day delay will not affect the timing, however.

The final electoral list will be published on January 4, 5 days ahead of the polls that would most likely lead to a secession of the largest country in Africa.

Many observers fear that delaying the vote would lead to new clashes in the south. The UN plans to increase the presence of its peacekeeping mission currently posted around the border areas.

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