October 29, 2010 / 11:00 AM / in 10 years

Botched Sudan referendum could reignite war: report

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A disputed outcome in a referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan could reignite one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest wars, an advocacy group warned on Friday.

Sudan's Vice-President and leader of SPLM Kiir chats with Sudanese President al-Bashir after swearing-in ceremony in Khartoum. Sudan's Vice-President and leader of SPLM Salva Kiir (L) chats with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after his swearing-in ceremony in Khartoum August 11, 2005. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin

The vote scheduled for January is the end-game of a 2005 peace deal ending more than two decades of civil war between northern and southern Sudan, and most experts predict southern Sudanese will vote to create the world’s newest nation state.

But the credibility of the ballot is under threat from logistical problems and from deliberate stalling on the part of northern politicians hostile to the prospect of southern independence, the not-for-profit Rift Valley Institute said.

“In the event of a vote against unity, a southern referendum with serious technical flaws would damage the legitimacy of secession,” the report entitled “Race Against Time” said.

“A disputed result would hold serious risks in terms of a potential return to north-south military confrontation.”

The 65-page report said time pressure made it “increasingly unlikely that the (referendum) will be conducted without procedural deficiencies”. Lack of clarity in the voting process or the disenfranchisement of large numbers of voters could lead to questions about the result’s validity.

The northern ruling National Congress Party has said it would accept the referendum result but always adds the caveat “if it is a free and fair process”.

The report said the referendum commission had to exert a “Herculean” effort to ensure the referendum vote was perceived as fairer than presidential and parliamentary elections held in April this year, which were criticised by opposition groups.

The head of the southern referendum commission said on Thursday it would be a “miracle” if the vote took place on time given the tight deadline and logistical problems.

Some Security Council members have said they would accept a short technical delay. The report said this may be required to maintain the credibility of the vote.

The north-south civil war claimed some 2 million lives mostly by famine and disease. It was fuelled by differences over oil, religion, ethnicity and ideology.

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