Eagerness for peace prevailing in Sudan as referendum approaches

18:25, January 05, 2011      

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More than 3 million southern Sudanese are expected to overwhelmingly vote for independence in a referendum scheduled to be held on Jan. 9.

While there have been fears of independence and even renewed war in Sudan, lots of northerners still bear a ray of hope for national unity.

The referendum is a central pillar of the 2005 peace deal. Before the deal was signed, decades of war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and the Christian-animist south killed at least 2 million people and left millions more displaced, according to reports.

"I'm very worried about a new round of bloody struggle if the referendum does not go smoothly and if the governments of the north and the south fail to reach agreement on issues like border and oil after the south is separated," said Abdola Zeem, a 28-year- old lawyer in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. "United or divided, peace is the most important."

During years of work, he made friends with many people from the south, but some have returned to the south in recent months for fear of violence between the north and the south.

"Some of them have careers and children in Khartoum and they don't like separation, but they have to go, otherwise, they might be looked as enemies by the south," he said. "My friends, my neighbors are leaving. I'm sad but I'm not able to stop them."

For fear of conflicts after the referendum, Khartoum University students who are from the south requested an earlier exam so that they can go home without any troubles relating to citizenship.

According to Emad Gad, an international relations professor of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, violence between the north and the south, if not necessarily war, is likely to occur.

Many southern are living in the north and vice versa. If the south goes separate, there may be some confrontations during the exchange of population, he told Xinhua.

There will also be dispute concerning interests of some areas like the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, Gad said.

People from Abyei were promised a referendum, also on Jan. 9, on whether to join the north or south, but the plan was postponed, leaving both sides with a thorny task of settling Abyei's future status through negotiations.

Despite the skeptics, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Tuesday in Juba, capital of the autonomous south, that he is committed to lasting peace with the south and that the north will give it all the support it needs for development.

"Now skeptics are still doubting we will carry out this referendum peacefully but we will prove them wrong once again," he said, stressing that the relationship between the people of south and of the north can only be enriched through peace, not war.

The message of peace was echoed and welcomed by a lot, including Saleh Abdu, an operation manager of a hotel in Khartoum.

Pointing at a board with words "Unity is the solution," Abdu shook his head. "It is almost impossible to keep united, but we just want a peaceful separation and a secure country," he told Xinhua after finishing the online chat with his friends in the south.

"I am worried about the future development of the south. There are no good roads, no good clinics, no proper schools in the south, then how can it become a new country?"

"I hope the south could cooperate well with the north in oil industry so that both sides can benefit," Abdu said. "Anyway, on that day when we say goodbye, we will still remember that we used to be one nation."

Source: Xinhua
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