Sudan vote opponents spread confusion
South Sudan’s ruling party formally confirmed for the first time on Saturday that it will support secession in a January independence referendum that could lead to the break-up of Africa’s largest nation.
"Since unity has not been made attractive, we are promoting what our people choose because we are following the people," said Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the southern branch of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Asked to clarify, she told reporters: "Separation."
Meanwhile, the head of the referendum’s organizing commission, Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, said opponents of the plebiscite were threatening lawsuits and spreading confusion to try to disrupt the vote.
Khalil said he had been flooded with spurious complaints and threats of lawsuits, all apparently from the same group.
Southerners are expected to vote for independence in the referendum, scheduled to start on Jan. 9 and last a week.
Southern leaders have accused the north’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of trying to find ways to disrupt the vote to keep control of the region’s oil reserves.
The referendum was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a north-south civil war. Both sides have accused each other of building up troops close to their border in recent months.
"We have received complaints in identical terms from different parties very clearly instigated by one main source, all of them groundless … The whole idea is to create confusion and give the idea that something serious is going wrong," Khalil, a northerner, said. He declined to say who he thought was behind the campaign of disruption.
State-linked media reported earlier that a group called the Higher Council for Peace and Unity had filed a "constitutional case" against the commission and the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), saying they had violated the law governing the vote.
Senior SPLM member Yasir Arman dismissed the new case saying it was "baseless and politically motivated by the NCP."
Under the terms of the 2005 peace deal, northern and southern leaders agreed to spend the next five years campaigning to make unity attractive to southerners.
But southern leaders have been making increasingly separatist remarks. Southern president Salva Kiir last year said southerners who voted for unity were choosing to be second class in their own country.
Senior NCP official Rabie Abdelati accused SPLM of breaking the terms of the peace deal by coming out for independence.
"They (the SPLM) are now working for secession regardless of the result of the referendum … The referendum will be nominal, illegal. I do not think that the NCP should recognize any process or any result that comes out of it," he said, adding his party had nothing to do with the legal challenges.