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INTERVIEW: Former U.S. special envoy says Turabi’s loyalists seeking to undermine referendum


October 27, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – The former U.S. special envoy to Sudan on Tuesday said that elements within the government loyal to the Islamist opposition leader Hassan Al-Turabi are seeking to derail the January 2011 referendum in order to avert what appears to be the likely separation of the South.

Andrew Natsios, former U.S. special envoy to Sudan

Andrew Natsios who just returned from a trip that took him to South Sudan said that while president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and his 2nd Vice president Ali Osman Taha are "moderates", he pointed fingers at pro-Turabi figures within the regime who do not want the South to separate.

On January 9, 2011 the people of South Sudan are scheduled to vote in a self-determination referendum in order to decide whether they want to remain as part of united Sudan or create their own state. It is widely expected that secession will be the overwhelming choice of Southerners.

The referendums in south Sudan and the oil-rich region of Abyei were a centerpiece of a 2005 accord which ended two decades of civil war in which about two million people died. Preparations for the key votes 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 Abyei will not have its vote held as scheduled as issues of border demarcation and eligibility of voters have yet to be resolved.

On Wednesday, the referendum commission chief Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil said that holding the vote within the remaining time would be a "miracle."

The former U.S. special envoy in an interview with Sudan Tribune, said that preparations for the conduct of the referendum would be running smoothly if it wasn’t for the government seeking to place impediments and deploying delaying tactics in their negotiations with the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).

"If the Sudanese government stops stonewalling .... They [National Congress Party] are trying to use the referendum as a weapon. The north wants to get a higher use of oil, they want a deal on Nile river and debt level," Natsios said.

According to a timetable released by the referendum commission, 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.

Natsios dismissed criticisms that the tight timeline will undermine the credibility of the plebiscite.

"I don’t think the issue of transparency is related to timing. It is really about the logistics and putting everything in place for the vote to take place. Most of the work on the actual logistics is carried out by the UN and other NGO’s," he said.

He also warned that any move to delay the vote by more than two weeks "could bring violence" to the region. Furthermore, he said that the Obama administration should be prepared to use its air force should the North attempt to invade the South or take over the oilfields.

The North and South have yet to agree on contentious post-referendum arrangements including border demarcation, wealth sharing, water agreements, citizenship and national debt. Officials from the NCP have hinted that no referendum can be held without finalizing the border demarcation.

The Georgetown University professor described the North-based government as "weak" with crumbling control over the Africa’s largest country.

"They are losing control of Darfur and South, people in the East from the Beja [tribe] are getting very upset.... They cancelled some very important agricultural and irrigation projects in Gezira [state]" he said.

Natsios noted controversial statements made by the former finance minister Abdel-Rahim Hamdi five years ago in which he called on the NCP to undertake massive development projects within a very limited area of the North in order to build a reliable electoral base while ignoring other parts of the country.

He also suggested that the NCP has little confidence in the loyalty of the army particularly after the attack by the Darfuri Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on the capital in May 2008 for their belief that it is heavily infiltrated by supporters of Turabi who now heads the Popular Congress Party (PCP).

"They [the army] did not intervene [to stop the JEM attack] which I find stunning considering how close they got to overthrowing the government. Fifty percent of the army leadership was handpicked by Turabi," Natsios said. He further added that intelligence bureaus in the region believe Turabi will make another attempt to overthrow the government.

Turabi, who was close to Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al- Bashir before a bitter power struggle and split in 1999-2000 has been accused by Khartoum of being behind JEM which has waged war against the central government since 2003 in Darfur.

"The question we need to ask ourselves is how much stress are they [the NCP] under; they are standing with their back against the wall. They are getting so weak now they can’t enforce an agreement," he said.

The former envoy referred to the stalemate over Abyei stressing that the NCP has lost control over the issue to the Arab Misseriya tribe who live in the area.

"80%-90% is what I am told is demarcated [in North-South Sudan borders]. The real issue is that of Abyei. I don’t think they [the NCP] have the political power over the Misseriya anymore....the north is too weak" he said, adding that compromises offered by the SPLM to break the deadlock were rejected for that particular reason.

The Misseriya tribesmen fought with the north during the two-decade civil war against southern rebels that ended in 2005. Natsios said he finds it "interesting" that the Misseriya are now formally incorporated in the Sudanese army.

Nonetheless, Natsios emphasized that both the leaders of the North and South know that "they have a lot to lose" if they go to war "no matter how much they despise each other".

"They [North and South] know if they fail [to avert a war] the oil flow will stop. They are dependent on each other. They have built huge public sectors with thousands on their payroll," he said, adding that he was impressed with the development that took place in Juba.

Natsios said he is "cautiously optimistic" over the future of the country after the referendum and revealed that he finished working on a series of books titled "’What everyone needs to know about Sudan and Darfur" that will be published by Oxford University Press and will be out early in 2011.


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  • 28 October 2010 05:22, by David Glenn

    I am afraid this is a republican V democrat game.

    repondre message

    • 28 October 2010 07:26, by Gatwech

      Bravo Natsios,

      I like this upcoming measures by the US as you stated below:

      "He also warned that any move to delay the vote by more than two weeks "could bring violence" to the region. Furthermore, he said that the Obama administration should be prepared to use its air force should the North attempt to invade the South or take over the oilfields."

      The US, British and France should declare a no-fly zone at the north-south borders and deploy their airforce in South Sudan to monitor any violations by the NCP’s regime.

      To hell with Dr. Turabi. He will not survive this time should he act like a hyena against the South.

      repondre message

    • 28 October 2010 07:47, by Anyang

      Got it Mr Andrew,but be assure that,we are determine to see it all through and the likelihood are truely gaining momentum day & night despite their nasty & dirty tactical attempt to foil the whole agreement for the purposes of greeds to keep the country united, which is,in my opinion is gonna happen again in SPLM & the general Southern Sudanese public watch this time whether they like it or not.

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      • 28 October 2010 23:50, by padiit gaga

        This is what the peace maker use to see, some of the parts in Sudan do not want South Sudan to be another country while their administration is villain. Bad leadership could cause saparetion eventhough citizens do not want to predict, but the situation can force them to do so.

        This envoy has seen some things going on, nothing could prevent south sudan independent at all. Sudan has been in unity since the British left, but not thing good in unity while the situation is not poise, who can vote for Unity? No body because we already seen the things that happened in Unity no body could go back to unity.

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    • 28 October 2010 09:09, by Biliu

      Every political move is a reciprocated game, what it matter is the out come, if such statements were released earlier a year ago, Abyei referendum would be held simultaneously with the Southern Sudan referendum and there would be no RANSOM to be paid, if Turabi loyalists in the Sudanese army are preparing to undermine the Southern Sudan referendum, then let them overthrow the NCP first and then see if they can make a change to 2005 CPA,I doubt it!!!, such an act will give us [Southerners] the right to declare unilateral cessation and the whole world will welcome it, after that, it will be two countries issue instead of a (still one nation) I urge AlTurabi and his stupid loyalists to make their move as soon as possible, at least that will helps South save Billion of Dollars which we are about to waste on referendum, God Bless and keep blessing South Sudan.

      repondre message

    • 28 October 2010 17:45, by J.James

      Hi guys
      J. James is back to the work. and I want to inform Hassan Turabi and his crooks to go and bury their heads deep in the sea alive.

      Southern Sudan will definietely going to be a free, independent, and democratic nation without Arab decision.

      God bless

      The writer always love people of Southern Sudan.

      repondre message

    • 28 October 2010 18:17, by Sudani Logik

      We DON’T need US Air Force or any other foriegn Force to control our skies, just like the SPLA dealt with them in the past, they shall deal with them in the future.

      Bashir and his administration are on their dying bed, so I urge southerners to not blindly request US or other military intervention as it would cost us dearly. Only UN/AU troops in hotspots would be a good idea at least for the purpose of evidence collection if nothing else.

      repondre message

  • 28 October 2010 06:17, by Kur William

    Of course if NCP will not comly with requirement how to conduct referendum Smoothly and then the war is inevitable between North and South No matter how much the prices.Kur

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  • 28 October 2010 07:27, by Young Nation

    "the Obama administration should be prepared to use its air force should the North attempt to invade the South or take over the oilfields" said Natsios

    The political and military weakness and fragility of Bashir’s regime is extremely known not only by the SPLM and Southern Sudanese in General but also by the concern foreigners such as American scholars like Natsios. This regime must go. If the generation of today’s SPLM leaders are not unable to destroy this fragile Islamic extremist regime, which I definitely believe they will, then the tomorrow’s SPLM generation will definitely.

    Young Nation is a BA student at The University Of Queensland, Australia

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  • 28 October 2010 09:06, by Padiet Deng Alony

    The Georgetown University professor described the North-based government as "weak" with crumbling control over the Africa’s largest country.

    "They are losing control of Darfur and South, people in the East from the Beja [tribe] are getting very upset.... They cancelled some very important agricultural and irrigation projects in Gezira [state]" he said

    repondre message

  • 28 October 2010 11:30, by Akuma

    What is in Mr. Andrew’s mouth is money otherwise Turabi is innocent in any means. Republican can speak trust rather than what Democrat party are trying now with Sudan issues.

    Dr. Akuma

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  • 28 October 2010 13:14, by oyeidit

    SPLA knows this trick but we shall not be threaten.
    We are ready for war.

    repondre message

    • 29 October 2010 05:16, by Magos

      In all those friends of oil ,they should have to be with good plan to threat the enemies of South.I think this should good time to internnational communities to interfere and block out the war. according to my obsevation , As former special envoy to Sudan indicates briefly that North sudan ’s very weak for nogaition on the others issues therefore South Sudan must separate from north.

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