Sudan's president has said he would be ready to recognize an independent southern Sudan if southerners vote in favor of secession in a 2011 referendum.
"We will work to make unity attractive to all Sudanese, but we will respect the wish of southerners whatever the outcome and we will be the first to recognize such a southern state," President Omar al-Bashir said Tuesday at a rally marking the 5th anniversary of the peace pact that ended more than 20 years of civil war between the north and south. Some 2 million people are thought to have perished in the war.
The peace deal also created a national unity government and a semiautonomous south. It provides for nationwide parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in April 2010, and a referendum in 2011 to determine whether the south wanted to secede from the country's Arabized north.
As part of the peace deal, the two parties agreed to work to make unity attractive. But southerners, increasingly frustrated at the lack of peace dividends, have openly favored independence.
Many northerners fear the secession of the oil-rich south would deprive their government of much needed revenues.