JUBA, Sudan – The U.N. is planning for the possibility that 2.8 million people will be displaced in Sudan if fighting breaks out over the south's January independence referendum, according to an internal report reviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Just over two weeks remain before voters in Southern Sudan decide whether to remain with the Khartoum-based north or — more likely — to secede and create the world's newest country.
Tensions are high over the vote. Aircraft from the northern Sudanese military have bombed areas in the south or near disputed north-south borders in recent weeks, and the U.N. report said both northern and southern militaries have been rearming, and that many southerners possess guns and light weapons.
Both militaries have reinforced their positions along the border in recent months, hindering aid work, the report said. If either the north or the south doesn't accept the results of the Jan. 9 referendum, the result could be a "war-like" situation, it said.
"A deterioration of the North-South relationship, as well as tensions within northern and southern Sudan could lead to large-scale outflow of people to neighboring countries," said the U.N.'s humanitarian contingency plan, which is stamped "Not for wider distribution" but was obtained by AP.
Underscoring the precarious security situation, southern military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said Tuesday that 20 troops were killed and 50 wounded in an attack Saturday by forces loyal to a renegade army commander in the remote and militarized state of Jonglei.
Aguer said the attack was a surprise because amnesty discussions between the south and commander George Athor are under way. The south's president offered Athor and other dissident military figures amnesty in September in an effort to promote southern unity ahead of the January vote.
The north and south ended a two-decades-plus civil war with the signing of a 2005 peace accord that also guaranteed the south the right to hold an independence referendum. Some 2 million people died in the war, which left southerners scarred and suspicious of Khartoum's Muslim Arab rulers.
In Sudan's capital Khartoum on Tuesday, the leaders of Egypt and Libya met with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir to discuss the future of Sudan after the vote.
If worst-case violence scenarios play out after January, the U.N. plan anticipates an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced people within Sudan and an additional 3.2 million people who may be affected by a breakdown in trade and social services.
The hardest hit populations would be those living along Sudan's disputed and militarized 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) north-south border, as well as an estimated 800,000 southerners living in and around Khartoum who would "flee or (be) forced to move to Southern Sudan as a result of violence and insecurity."
Egypt says Tuesday's Khartoum talks are designed to ensure that the referendum is held in a "climate of freedom, transparency and credibility" and that the four leaders would review outstanding issues between the north and south, such as the demarcation of the border and the future of the oil-rich border area of Abyei.
Both Libya and Egypt view Sudan as their strategic backyard and would want to see the breakup of their southern neighbor to be peaceful and avoid any massive flow of refugees into their territory as a result of fighting.
While Libya sees Sudan as a vital piece of its Africa-focused foreign policy, there is much more at stake there for Egypt, the most populous Arab nation. Sudan lies astride the middle reaches of the Nile, the primary source of water for mainly desert Egypt. The White Nile, one of the river's two main tributaries, runs through Southern Sudan.
Egypt fears an independent south may come under the influence of rival Nile basin nations like Ethiopia that have been complaining Egypt uses more than its fair share of the river's water.
In preparation for potential problems, the World Food Program is positioning 76,000 metric tons of emergency food to 100 hubs throughout the south. Emergency shelter supplies, medical kits, and water and sanitation equipment have also been prepositioned.
Another challenge is the influx of southerners returning home from northern Sudan, where an estimated 1.5 million have lived since before the 2005 north-south peace agreement was signed. The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that 55,000 southern Sudanese have returned to the south in the last few weeks.
The influx is straining aid capacity. Grande said officials are worried the pace of returnees "may inundate us."
KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's president has vowed to more deeply entrench strict Islamic Sharia law in the northern half of his country if the predominantly animist and Christian south votes to secede in a Jan. 9 referendum.
President Omar al-Bashir's comments on Sunday appear to reflect his anger at the strong likelihood that the south will vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence from the mainly Arab and Muslim north in the long-awaited referendum. The vote is a key provision agreed on in the 2005 peace accord that officially ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
Al-Bashir will meet the leaders of Sudan's two most powerful neighbors — Egypt and Libya — in the capital Khartoum Tuesday to discuss the future of his country ahead of the referendum. Al-Bashir is wanted on an international indictment for war crimes in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
With only three weeks left before the vote, al-Bashir appears to be resigned to the secession of the south and also prepared to do away with key provisions of the 2005 peace accord that recognizes Sudan's ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity.
The secession of the south, he said, would be like "losing a part of the homeland, but it will not be the end of the world."
"If the south breaks away, God forbid, the constitution will be amended to have Sharia (Islamic law) as the main source of legislation, Islam the official religion of the state and Arabic the state's main language," said al-Bashir, who came to office in a 1989 military coup backed by Islamists.
A full-fledged implementation of Sharia law in northern Sudan could create a new point of friction between south and north because hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim southerners live in the north and many of them were expected to stay there even if the south breaks away. Currently, non-Muslims are exempt from harsh, prescribed Sharia punishments.
Al-Bashir's comments could be an attempt to cover up his failure to keep Sudan united and intact, according to Sudanese analyst Fayez Selik.
"Al-Bashir is saying to the north: we lost the south but we won Sharia," said Selik, editor of the pro-south daily Ajras al-Hurriya, or Freedom Bells.
Al-Bashir could also be seeking to rally extremist Islamic groups behind him, he said.
Sharia law was first introduced in Sudan in 1983 and it fueled a southern insurgency in its early years. Authorities soon relaxed implementation, but began to be strictly apply it again when al-Bashir came to power. It was relaxed again after the 2005 peace accord.
Al-Bashir is expected to meet Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir in Khartoum on Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in Cairo Monday.
Aboul Gheit told reporters the meeting was designed to ensure that the referendum is held in a "climate of freedom, transparency and credibility, reflecting the will of the sons of the south" and that the south and north build strong ties.
Aboul Gheit also said that the summit would review some of the outstanding issues between the two Sudanese sides, such as the demarcation of the border and the future of the oil-rich area of Abyei on the border between north and south Sudan.
Both Libya and Egypt view Sudan as their strategic backyard and would want to see the breakup of their southern neighbor to be peaceful and avoid any massive flow of refugees into their territory as a result of any renewed fighting.
While Libya sees Sudan as a vital piece of its Africa-focused foreign policy, there is much more at stake there for Egypt, the most populous Arab nation.
Sudan lies astride the middle reaches of the Nile, the primary source of water for mainly desert Egypt. The White Nile, one of the river's two main tributaries, runs through south Sudan.
Egypt fears an independent south Sudan may come under the influence of rival Nile basin nations like Ethiopia that have been complaining Egypt uses more than its fair share of the river's water.
"Guaranteeing our water needs and safeguarding our Nile resources are a central component of our vision for the future," Mubarak told his parliament on Sunday.
Sudan court rejects one vote challenge, mulls two
Reporting by Andrew Heavens and Khaled Abdel Aziz; editing by David Stamp
Mon Dec 20, 3:05 pm ET
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan's highest court has thrown out one legal challenge to a referendum on southern independence, but is considering two others that could derail the vote scheduled for next month, officials said on Monday.
Southerners are now 20 days away from the scheduled January 9 start of the plebiscite on whether to declare independence or stay in Sudan, a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.
Preparations for the referendum -- which are already far behind schedule -- have been disrupted by last-minute petitions to Sudan's Constitutional Court from groups citing a string of irregularities and calling for the organizing commission to be dissolved and voter registration to be re-run.
Southerners, who are widely expected to choose independence, have accused the north of backing the legal challenges to keep control of the south's oil reserves, accusations dismissed by the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
Analysts have warned that there is a risk of a return to conflict if the vote is disrupted or canceled.
An official at the Constitutional Court, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that judges had thrown out one case and were looking into two other petitions. The official declined to go into the detail of the cases.
Two groups, called the Society Organization Network and the Higher Council for Peace and Unity, have announced legal challenges. Their representatives and lawyers were not immediately available for comment on Monday.
The head of the referendum's organizing commission Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil said the court had asked him to respond to points raised in one of the surviving legal challenges.
"The court has summarily dismissed one case. We have received details of another petition and we have been asked to reply to it. That is what I am doing now," he said.
"From what I have seen so far there is absolutely no substance to these petitions. Some are ridiculous. One of them said that the CPA was unconstitutional," he added, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that set up Sudan's interim constitution and promised the referendum.
The referendum commission was sworn in this July, about three years late. Khalil said he was expecting ballot papers to arrive late on Wednesday or early on Thursday which, he insisted, still gave organizers just enough time to distribute them to remote parts of the south before the January 9 deadline.
International observers from the Carter Center last week praised the commission for holding a "generally credible" registration of voters.
Veronique De Keyser, who heads the European Union observer mission, said on Monday that the registration had been "comprehensive and generally peaceful" but told reporters she would give her full judgment after the voting took place.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are due to visit Khartoum to meet Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Tuesday, Sudan's state Suna news agency reported.
Diplomatic sources in Khartoum said they were expected to discuss plans for the referendum and the implications of a north-south split.