Sudan's al-Bashir to visit south ahead of crucial referendum

Sudan's al-Bashir to visit south ahead of crucial referendum

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was Tuesday expected to visit Juba, the capital of the autonomous Southern Sudan, just days before a crucial referendum on independence for the south, dpa reported.

   The south is widely expected to vote to break away from the north and form Africa's newest country - although concerns have been raised of a return to the decades-long north-south war.

   However, al-Bashir in a New Year's Day speech said he would accept the south's decision should it choose to form a new state, saying "peace is our ultimate goal in our relationships with our southern brothers, even if they choose a path other than unity."

   Sudan's president was due to meet Southern Sudanese leaders ahead of the vote, which was enshrined in the 2005 peace deal that ended the war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.

   Almost 4 million Southern Sudanese have registered to take part in the referendum, which now looks set to begin as scheduled on Sunday despite fears of a delay.

   Sudan's long civil war left around 2 million people dead, and campaigners are concerned the vote could spark more violence.

   Actor and Sudan activist George Clooney last week announced the launch of a satellite surveillance project aimed at monitoring Sudan during the referendum and warding off possible genocide.

   "We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we're watching, the world is watching," he said.

   Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and genocide carried out in Sudan's restive Darfur province.

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