KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A referendum on the future of Sudan’s oil-producing Abyei region should be postponed, northern officials said on Thursday, but the south dismissed the proposal as unacceptable.
Residents of the disputed region, which lies between north and south Sudan, were promised a vote on whether to be in the north or south as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.
North and south Sudan have clashed in the area since the signing of the peace deal. The Abyei vote is scheduled for January 9, 2011, the same day as southerners are due to vote on whether to stay part of Sudan or declare independence.
Northern officials said Sudan had run out of time to hold the Abyei vote by the January 9 deadline and must delay it or find another way of settling the issue.
“It is very clear that right now it is not possible to have the Abyei referendum on 9 January, 2011. We all agree that this is no longer practical,” Didiri Mohammad Ahmad, a senior member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), told journalists.
“We agreed that in the next talks we will try to look for other alternatives.”
Sudan’s minister of international cooperation, Jalal Yousuf Al-Digair, told the same news conference that the government would be open to a proposal to delay the referendum by a few months.
Abyei’s administrator said its residents would not accept a delay and may hold their own vote without the government.
“A delayed vote is unacceptable. The people of Abyei are still holding out for the referendum to be held on January 9. If the government does not give them that option we can have a self-run referendum,” said Deng Arop Kuol, a member of south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
North and south Sudan’s main political parties, who both claim Abyei, remain at loggerheads over how to organise the vote and analysts have warned that growing tensions over the plebiscite could re-ignite conflict.
The latest round of negotiations on Abyei between the parties, attended by U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration, ended in Addis Ababa on Tuesday without agreement.
Editing by Giles Elgood