Delay concerns over Southern Sudan independence vote

Delay concerns over Southern Sudan independence vote

A Sudanese official on Sunday said a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan due in January could be delayed, raising the possibility of north-south tensions, dpa reported.

The southern Sudanese are expected to vote to break away from the north in the referendum, which is enshrined in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a long civil war.

Mohamed Khalil, head of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, told Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera that it would be difficult to meet the January deadline for organizing the vote.

"Even if we had the initial voters registration records available and published today, conducting the referendum on the current deadline will still be difficult," he told the broadcaster.

Southern Sudan's main party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), has repeatedly warned it will not countenance any delay to the referendum and essentially threatened to break away unilaterally.

Tensions are rising ahead of the referendum and many issues still remain unresolved, including finalizing the border between the two countries - a key issue due to the huge deposits of oil in the region.

There have been sporadic clashes along the border since the end of the conflict.

The mainly Muslim north, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, and the Christian and Animist south fought a decades-long war that claimed the lives of over two million people.

The south has accused the north of trying to derail the referendum and of stoking tensions between different tribes in the south in order to create instability.

Many fear that the referendum could lead to violence, and both north and south have faced persistent accusations they are re-arming.

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