South Sudan Considers Referendum Without North
South Sudan's president has told U.N. Security Council envoys his region may have to hold an independence referendum without cooperation from the north, if the government in Khartoum tries to delay the upcoming vote.
The U.N. delegation is visiting Sudan for talks on the referendum, which will allow southern Sudanese to decide whether to remain united with the north or form an independent nation.
Britain's ambassador to the Security Council, Mark Lyall Grant, said Thursday that Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir made a "powerful case" for why the January 9 referendum has to go ahead on time. Lyall Grant said Mr. Kiir told the envoys he would not issue a unilateral declaration of independence, but that it might be necessary for the south to hold its own referendum.
The British envoy said the Security Council would press both sides to make the necessary preparations to allow the referendum to be credible and take place on time.
The vote was promised in the 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan's north-south civil war.
With just three months to go, preparations already are behind schedule. Observers have warned a postponement could trigger renewed fighting.
On Thursday, President Kiir offered pardons to several officers in his Sudan People's Liberation Army who rebelled or fought against the force. The pardons would restore the officers to the force and allow them free movement in the south. The move is aimed at healing divisions in the south ahead of the referendum.
Tensions between the north and south have been rising as the vote draws near. The sides also are at odds over a separate referendum, also on January 9, on the status of the oil-rich Abyei region.
Abyei voters are to decide which part of Sudan they will join. However, the north and south have been unable to agree on the exact borders of the region and whether the Misseriya tribe, aligned with the north, is allowed to vote.
Hundreds of cheering Sudanese lined the streets of the southern capital, Juba, Wednesday to greet the U.N. delegation. The envoys are visiting Sudan's troubled western Darfur region Thursday and will finish their trip in Khartoum for talks with northern officials.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.