Sudan vote opponents spread confusion


KHARTOUM/JUBA: Opponents of a referendum on independence for south Sudan are threatening lawsuits and spreading confusion to try to disrupt the vote, the chief official running the plebiscite said on Saturday.
The accusation came at a time of heightened tension around the poll, due next month. A southern official for the first time said her party would openly campaign for secession, bringing a warning from the north’s ruling party that it might refuse to recognise the result.
Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, the head of the referendum’s organising commission, told Reuters 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 January 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”.
Separately, in the southern capital Juba, senior SPLM member Anne Itto said the party would campaign for southerners to vote for independence, abandoning a legal fiction that the movement was neutral. “Since unity has not been made attractive, we are promoting what our people choose … If you have had your ears open, more than 90 percent of the people are already waving,” she said, referring to the open-hand symbol for separation printed on referendum forms. Asked what she meant by waving, Itto answered separation.
Itto said she was speaking for the party’s dominant southern sector. Arman, from the northern sector, declined to comment. 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 Itto of breaking the terms of the peace deal by coming out for independence.