KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir offered to take on all of the country’s crippling debt if the south declares independence after a referendum, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told CNN on Monday.
The offer, if confirmed, would be a significant conciliatory gesture from Bashir and would lift a huge fiscal burden from the south in the early days of its expected independence.
“I spoke with President al-Bashir. He said the entire debt should be assigned to north Sudan and not to the southern part ...,” Carter said in an interview with the television channel.
“So, in a way, southern Sudan is starting with a clean sheet on debt.”
Sudan has previously called for its nearly $38 billion in debt to be forgiven to strengthen prospects for peace. Most of that debt is in arrears, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Carter’s comments were broadcast on the second day of voting in the week-long referendum on whether the country’s oil- producing south should declare independence. Southerners are widely expected to choose to secede.
The fate of the country’s debt was one of a list of unresolved issues being discussed by northern and southern leaders, including the position of the north/south border and the sharing out of oil revenues.
U.S. President Barack Obama has promised to help Sudan with its debt burden, along with other incentives, as long as it delivers a peaceful referendum and resolves its separate Darfur conflict.