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South Sudan’s President describes reports of rift with deputy a “desperate attempt” to delay referendum

October 30, 2010 (JUBA) – The First Vice President of Sudan and President of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has refuted suggestions in the Sudanese media that a rift is developing in the leadership of south Sudan’s ruling party.

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Southern Sudan’s President Salva Kiir addressing closing session of 8th Governors’ Forum, Juba, 30 Oct. 2010

Al Sudani newspaper and some other Arabic language media outlets have reported statements attributed to President Kiir Mayardit, alleging that he talked of divisions between him and his deputy, Riek Machar Teny, during an interview in the national capital, Khartoum.

South Sudan is due to hold a referendum in January to determine whether it will become independent and split from the north or remain as one country.

The preparations for the poll are running way behind schedule. The north-south border is still to be demarcated, voter registration will not begin until mid November and final voter lists will not be finalised until days before polling begins on 9 January.

Officials in Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) have questioned whether the vote should go ahead in the oil producing region.

President Kiir described the reports division with Vice President Machar as a “desperate attempt by a group of people who have run out of ideas and strategies to undermine the timely conduct of the referendum.”

The southern referendum and a simultaneous vote to decide whether Abyei – an oil-rich region on the north-south border – should become part of the south were the centre pieces of a 2005 peace deal between the NCP and the former rebels the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Since the death of SPLM leader John Garang, months after the agreement was signed, the SPLM, led by Kiir, have governed the south and shared power and wealth with the NCP on a national level.

Addressing the closing session of the six-day Governors Forum in Juba on Saturday, Kiir told the governors, ministers, members of parliament and international development partners present at the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly that the statements attributed to him were not true.

"You may be aware that certain media houses in Khartoum are deliberately spreading cheap propaganda alleging divisions within the Government of Southern Sudan and the SPLM. They have even gone further by manufacturing differences between me and my Vice President by attributing certain comments on me against Dr Riek Machar and even our great hero Dr John Garang," Kiir told the forum.

He said that some figures were desperate to postpone the conduct of the referendum, an idea that until now the SPLM has dismissed, despite the delays.

"I simply see all these [stories of division] as a desperate attempt by a group of people who have run out of ideas and strategies to undermine the timely conduct of the referendum," he said.

He also assured the forum that south Sudan will remain united whatever the circumstances.

“No amount of propaganda can break the will of the people of Southern Sudan to remain united to confront the challenges associated with the referendum and beyond. We will not permit anyone to divide the leadership of the government and people of South Sudan,” he said.

“We must continue to cement unity among the people of Southern Sudan, and guard against attempts by those who plan day and night to divide us,” he continued.

Southern Sudan’s President also accused Khartoum based media houses of intentionally spreading, what he termed, "cheap propaganda" to divide political leaders and people of the region before referendum takes place.

He further said that the people of Southern Sudan are committed to determine their political destiny in a free, fair and transparent referendum on 9th January, 2011.

“I call upon the people of the Sudan and all political forces in the country to respect and abide by the will and choice of the people of South Sudan in 2011," he said.

President Kiir who did not officially open the gathering because he had to attend to other duties in his role as Sudan’s 1st Vice President commended his deputy and organizers for making the 8th Governors Forum a success.

“In conclusion, I would like to commend the Vice President Dr Riek Machar Teny, and all the organizers of this 8th Governors’ Forum for ensuring its successful conclusion.”

“I also wish to extend my appreciation to the Governors, Ministers, Legislatures, Development Partners and all invited guests for their effective participation and contribution. I thank UNDP for its continuous support to the Governors’ Forum,” he added.

Kiir’s comments follow a press conference on Friday called by Marial Benjamin Bill, a minister of information and broadcasting services in the government of south Sudan, specifically to dismiss the claims.

“There is no division among political leaders in South Sudan in General let alone allegations that there is division in the government and people of Southern Sudan. Political leaders, both in and outside the government are united and moving together towards the referendum with one purpose: self-determination,” Marial said.

In 1991 Machar, then a General in the military wing of the SPLM, the SPLA, attempted to wrestle power from the rebel movement’s leader John Garang.

The coup failed with the SPLA splitting along mainly ethnic lines causing a Nuer-Dinka fault line across much of the south.

But after failing to achieve his objectives and signing his own peace deal with the Khartoum-based NCP, Machar rejoined the SPLA in 2002.

In 2005 Kiir made Machar the south’s Vice President, in what many saw an attempt at reconciliation.

It also gave the southern Presidency more tribal balance. Kiir is from south Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, like his predecessor Garang. Machar is from the south’s second biggest tribe the Nuer.

(ST)

The full text of Salva Kiir’s speach during closing session of the Governors Forum in Juba can be found in the Press Releases section.