Ready or Not: Sudan Moves Towards Referendum

November 19, 2010

The AP is reporting today that merchants are starting to flee South Sudan ahead of January’s referendum, which will decide the fate of Africa’s largest country. For over 20 years civil war took place in Sudan between the largely Muslim Arab north and the mostly Christian and Animist south. As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the warring parties have agreed to a referendum that will decide if the semi-autonomous South Sudan will stay part of the country or secede. Abyei will hold a referendum simultaneously with the southern Sudan referendum to decide whether to remain in northern Sudan or become part of southern Sudan.

Map of Sudan, highlighting the oil rich and most contentious area of Abyei. Click to enlarge. (c) Amnesty International USA

Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, the north and south have squabbled over several implementations of the agreement. Most observers now expect that the south will vote for independence.

Several new developments have recently emerged. In a rare joint-statement made last week the south’s minister for the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and the north’s Minister of Defense tried to mitigate tensions. In the midst of recent accusations by both sides of troop and military buildup, the two officials vowed that there would not be a return to war following the referendum.

Voter registration for the referendum started this week in the more than 2600 registration centers across the south. Registration is also available to southerners in the north and for those residing in eight countries outside of Sudan.

In anticipation of the vote, the United Nations has been keeping a close eye on the situation. On Monday the UN’s chief peacekeeper, Moses Obi, made a statement quelling rumors that there have been major military build-ups by both the north and the south. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated the next day that the UN is considering measures to increase their peacekeeping force, currently numbering at over 10,000.

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