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Spokesperson for South Sudan referendum quits, urges delay of independence vote

November 1, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – The spokesperson for South Sudan referendum commission (SSRC) Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim announced that he has submitted his resignation and spoke of deep disagreements he had with the head of the commission and its secretary general.

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A Sudanese worker handles referendum materials procured by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), acting under a contract for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which were handed over to Southern Sudanese authorities Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010 in Khartoum, Sudan (AP)

SSRC is tasked with organizing the self-determination vote by which the people of South Sudan will decide on whether they want to create their own state or remain united with the north. It is a key plank of the 2005 peace deal that ended a decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan.

It is widely expected that people in South Sudan will choose independence driven by bitterness and mistrust of the Arab-Muslim dominated North.

The commission was belatedly established last July and its formation was completed two months later following a deadlock over the post of the Secretary General. Omer Al-Sheik, the original nominee for SG post, has declined it after the Sudan people Liberation Movement (SPLM) accused him of incompetence despite the SSRC chief Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil insisting on his choice.

Today, the SSRC spokesperson told the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that he is stepping down for reasons that he would not disclose publicly but spoke of "disturbing disagreements" with some of his peers at the commission.

"I do not wish to convey negative talk on the commission.....there are things that are just not right," he told the newspaper in an interview.

Ibrahim said that while he respects the commission chief, he said that dealing with him was"difficult" adding that he also had differences that he failed to resolve with the SSRC’s SG Mohamed Osman Al-Nijoumi.

"I used not to sleep at night when I look at the country on verge of breaking apart but we accepted to work in the commission voluntarily to make referendum a fair and transparent process," he said.

He also expressed skepticism that the vote can be held as scheduled on January 9th saying that there is little time between registering the voters and carrying out the vote.

"The referendum date must be adjusted from January 9 to April or May 9th so that environment is conducive to carry out the referendum and the two sides are able to resolve the Abyei issue," Ibrahim added.

This week the referendum commission chief said that it would be a "miracle" to hold the plebiscite as scheduled on January 9, 2011.

Preparations for the key votes in South Sudan and Abyei have proceeded haltingly amid political and logistical obstacles, and the southerners have accused the northerners of stalling, warning of violence if the referendum is delayed.

Furthermore, it is all but certain that the Abyei referendum will be delayed as the commission to oversee it has not been established yet. Northern officials have publicly asserted that the disputed border area will not have its vote held as scheduled as issues of border demarcation and eligibility of voters have yet to be resolved.

The timetable issued by the commission this month, voters will now be registered between November 14 and December 1 and the final list of voters will be published on January 4, five days before the start of voting. However later it was announced that the registration will start one day later on November 15.

The U.S. based Carter Center issued a report last month highlighting difficulties that will face the referendum process including providing the funding for training the polling staff and determining the voters’ eligibility.

Today, the United Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said that it has more than half the $63 million pledged by the donors to support the referendum.

US RENEWS SANCTIONS, CALLS FOR DIFFICULT CHOICES

Separately, the US President Barack Obama today extended the economic sanctions on Sudan for at least one year according to the White House.

In a letter sent to members of Congress, Obama informed US lawmakers that the sanctions on Khartoum, which were to have expired on Wednesday, would be extended, saying that the circumstances which led to their imposition some 13 years ago have "not been resolved."

Sudan’s actions and policies, Obama wrote, "are hostile to US interests and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

"Therefore, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared with respect to Sudan and maintain in force sanctions against Sudan to respond to this threat," Obama wrote in his letter to Congress.

The United States has banned virtually all trade with Sudan since 1997.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States hoped Sudan’s leaders "will make the urgent and difficult choices necessary to secure peace for the Sudanese people."

"As we work to support these choices, the United States will review the Sudanese government’s progress on resolving outstanding (peace agreement) implementation issues as well as other relevant circumstances, to include improving security and humanitarian access in Darfur," he said.

"If the government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and advance peace, we stand ready to work with Sudan to ensure its rightful place in the international community.

Obama last week stressed the need to go ahead with the vote as scheduled when he spoke to former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has tried to overcome obstacles in the north-south peace process as head of an African Union panel.

(ST)