Threat of new north-south Sudan conflict remains-UN

Source: Reuters

* U.N. official advises both sides to prepare for outcome * National elections also set for next year By Louis Charbonneau UNITED NATIONS, Sept 11 (Reuters) – A new conflict could erupt in Sudan if its former civil war foes fail to agree on how to manage a 2011 referendum on whether the south should secede from the north, a U.N. official said on Friday. North and south Sudan fought a two-decade war that ended with a peace deal in 2005 but tensions remain and time is running out to prepare for two deadlines in the accord — a national election scheduled for 2010 and the referendum across the country’s southern regions in 2011. David Gressly, U.N. regional coordinator for southern Sudan, told reporters by video link that the north and south need to prepare now for both possible outcomes of the referendum and warned that they were behind schedule. “Neither side seems to want a renewed conflict,” he said. It was possible, he said, for the two sides to peacefully accept either outcome but that would require “hard decisions in the very near future on how to come to that final accommodation” so the north and south can live together — either as a united Sudan or as two neighboring countries. “The alternative is a renewed conflict and that is a very real threat out there,” he said. Most southerners, who have bitter memories of the civil war, are thought to favor independence. Many northern officials are nervous about the prospect of losing the south, which produces most of Sudan’s oil wealth.Two million people were killed and 4 million fled between 1983 and 2005 as Sudan’s Muslim north and mainly Christian south battled over differences in ideology, ethnicity and religion. WHO WILL VOTE? Gressly said the most important hard decisions on the referendum include who will vote, what kind of turnout will be required and what percentage of the vote will be necessary to decide unity with the north or secession for the south. The two disagree on these and other issues, he said. Negotiators from northern Sudan and the semi-autonomous south have been discussing the issue but the latest round of talks on Thursday failed to produce an agreement. The longer decisions on how the referendum will be managed are delayed, Gressly said, the more likely there will be renewed fighting across Africa’s largest country. “The amount of time left to do that is starting to run out,” he said. “It really needs to be done in the next few months in order to put all the preparations in place.” Gressly also expressed concern about the fact that southern Sudan remains “awash in arms” due to the long civil war and the weakness of the southern Sudanese security forces. People feel the need to keep weapons for self-defense, he said. He also said violent attacks and raids by bandits seeking control of cattle, water and land continue to plague the inhabitants of southern Sudan. Sudan’s north-south war was separate from Sudan’s Darfur conflict which broke out in 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the remote western region. The United Nations has a 10,000-strong peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan, known as UNMIS, that monitors compliance with the 2005 north-south peace agreement. (Editing by Bill Trott)
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