Commissioner seeks delay in South Sudan independence vote
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudan's referendum on independence must either be delayed or some arrangements will have to be skipped, as time is too short to hold the vote as required, a referendum commission member said on Saturday.
The January 9, 2011 vote is the climax of a 2005 peace deal which ended Africa's longest civil war fought on and off since 1955 between the mainly Muslim north and the south, which follows mostly traditional beliefs or Christianity.
Oil, ethnicity and ideology also fuelled the conflict.
Most analysts believe the south will vote to secede. Semi-autonomous south Sudan's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), opposes any delay to the plebiscite.
The referendum commission was appointed at the end of June more than two years late with still no agreement on the key executive secretary-general position.
"The remaining time is not enough to hold the referendum," commission member Tarig Osman told Reuters.
He said the registration of voters should be completed and published three months before the plebiscite according to the referendum law, and that was impossible in the time left.
"We have only two choices -- skip some of the procedures, which would be unacceptable because it could affect the endorsement of the referendum," Osman said. "The other choice is a limited delay to the referendum timetable to complete the procedures."
The delay would last no longer than six months, he added.
The northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM have stalled over agreeing post-referendum arrangements including demarcating the border, defining citizenship and sharing Sudan's oil wealth, mostly located along the disputed border.
The NCP says the border must be decided ahead of the vote whereas the SPLM rejects any conditions to the plebiscite, accusing the NCP of deliberate delays to derail it.
Many fear delays or obscurity surrounding the plebiscite could reignite Sudan's civil war, which claimed an estimated 2 million lives, mostly by hunger and disease, and destabilised the east African region.
The north-south partners have argued over every stage of implementing the 2005 deal, which was meant to ensure democratic transformation in a united Sudan with two different systems of rule for north and south.
After constant delays over implementing the deal and flawed April elections in both the north and south, SPLM officials have been making increasingly secessionist remarks.
(Writing by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Peter Graff)
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