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South Sudan Holds First Debate on Independence Referendum
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Oct 28, 2008 - 8:47:19 AM

South Sudan Holds First Debate on Independence Referendum

By Moyiga Nduru

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- South Sudan's road to independence will be a bumpy one, President Salva Kiir said in the first public debate on a referendum to be held in 2011 that will decide whether the region should secede from Sudan.

``Some groups in Sudan are working to obstruct the referendum,'' Kiir told the audience in the regional capital, Juba, yesterday. ``It is our duty to prevent these elements.''

South Sudan was granted the status of a semi-autonomous region and the right to a referendum on its future in a 2005 peace agreement that ended a two-decade civil war between the animist and Christian south and the mainly Muslim north. The deal ended a conflict that claimed as many as 2 million lives.

Most of Sudan's oil production of as much as 500,000 barrels a day is pumped in the south. The peace accord gives the administration in Juba 50 percent of the revenue from southern output.

The disputed oil-rich Abyei region, which was given special administrative status under the peace agreement, is also scheduled to hold a referendum to decide whether it will join the south or the north.

Clashes in May in Abyei between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which runs the government in Juba, and forces loyal to President Umar al-Bashir in Khartoum forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes.

Both governments agreed in June to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. They also decided to set up an interim government and to deploy a joint force of 1,000 police officers in the town.

Implement Referendum

``I urge Sudan's peace partners to cooperate in order to implement the referendum in the south and in Abyei,'' said Abel Alier, who is co-chair of the National Constitutional Review Commission.

Other participants complained that while the peace agreement was supposed to convince southerners to remain part of a unified Sudan, it has few economic benefits so far.

``For three years not a single national project has come to the south,'' said Bashir Bendi, chairman of information and culture committee in the southern parliament. ``Only contracts for a few dams were signed in Juba recently.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Moyiga Nduru in Juba via Johannesburg at [email protected].

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