October 19, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein became the most senior official from the National Congress Party (NCP) in control of the north, to explicitly suggest that the referendum in the South has to be moved back from its original date of January 9, 2011.
- Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak (R) speaks with Sudan’s Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein during their meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo October 19, 2010 (Reuters)
"According to the reality on the ground, yes. Border issues and Abyei must be resolved within the framework of one nation because doing so in the framework of two countries open the door for foreign interference," Hussein told reporters in Cairo following his meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
"The referendum is not a goal but a tool to consolidate and promote security and stability," the top military official said and warned that his government will not recognize the South should they proceed with unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).
"This [UDI] is illegal and will not be recognized by the African Union or the other [organization] because it would contradict the peace agreement and its procedures" Hussein added.
Sudan has already announced that a simultaneous referendum in the oil-rich region of Abyei cannot be held as scheduled because of disagreements over who can vote. U.S. brokered talks in Ethiopia on the issue have failed to break the deadlock.
The two referenda were part of the 2005 peace agreement that ended a bloody 21-year civil war between Sudan’s mostly Muslim north and predominantly animist and Christian south. The agreement also set up a unity government in the capital, Khartoum, and an autonomous government in the south to rule until the southern referendum.
Nearly 2 million people died in Sudan’s civil war, one of the world’s bloodiest of the second half of the 20th century.
The Sudanese defense minister said that 80% of the North-South border demarcation is complete.
"The problem relates to less than 20 percent of the border region," he noted, emphasizing "the necessity of... demarcating the borders to prepare the ground for the referendum, so there is no excuse for fighting in the future."
But a Southern official was quick to dismiss the call for a postponement describing it as a “non-starter full of wishful thinking”.
Arop Madut Arop, the Abyei area legislator told Sudan Tribune in a phone interview on Tuesday that such remarks NCP officials especially at this critical time were simply “kicks from dying horses”.
“The national government was responsible for the enactment of the Referendum Act which was passed. They formed the southern Sudan Referendum Commission which is now operational. Apart from the other technical aspects that may be required, they have nothing to do with the smooth conduct of the January referendum,” Arop said.
He added, “Why don’t these people [national government] allow the referendum bureau headed by Justice Chan Reec to do its work normally? This is just interference.”
The UN’s top official in south Sudan told reporters on Tuesday that that the vote could still be held on time.
"We remain confident that the timeframe so far discussed, that we can deliver what is required," said David Gressly, the regional controller in the south for the United Nations Mission in Sudan, responsible for monitoring the peace agreement.
"We do have the airlift capacity to do this," he added. "However the commission does have to conclude on a number of decisions."
In a related issue, the South African government said it would oppose any move to delay the referendum.
’Business Day’ newspaper based in South Africa quoted the International Relations and Cooperation director-general Ayanda Ntsaluba as outlining this position.
Uma Julius from Juba contributed to this report