Tensions are rising in Sudan in advance of next month’s referendum on independence for the country’s south. The vote was agreed as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the decades-long civil war between the largely Arab and Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.
The southern army today accused Khartoum of bombing its territory in the latest of a series of air attacks over the past week.
South Sudanese officials claim that more than 2.8 million people have registered to vote in the January 9 referendum. The most energetic campaigning has come from supporters of secession, many of whom resent being treated as second-class citizens and relish the prospect of establishing an independent southern state, drawing on the region’s considerable and largely unexploited mineral wealth.
Civil society groups, including grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, have played a vital role in promoting dialog and reconciliation, but most reports suggest that the south will vote to secede:
In the referendum, southern Sudanese will be able to choose between “Separation” and “Unity,” but nobody at this rally seemed to be interested in unity with the north, and rally organizers made it clear how they thought people should vote. “We are not a neutral organization,” said Bol Akok, a mobilization officer for the Southern Sudan Youth Forum for Referendum, which has been organizing the monthly rallies. “We are campaigning for the separation of southern Sudan.”
The Sudanese are no strangers to democracy, Dave Peterson, the NED’s senior director for Africa, has observed. But democracy advocates believe the challenges of holding a peaceful are “formidable.”
Traci Cook, the National Democratic Institute‘s director in Juba, southern Sudan, will today give her latest assessment of preparations for the vote at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Click here to watch the event.