Today marks the first day of voting in a referendum on Southern Sudanese secession. The referendum is a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of civil war between North and South Sudan. The result, especially if it is the expected one of a vote for secession, will have political ramifications that extend well beyond Sudan. These ramifications include potentially giving hope to secessionist movements elsewhere, and also remaking the political landscape of East Africa. Meanwhile, the Abyei border region (whose own January 9th referendum on which country to join has been postponed) remains a locus of tension. I’ve highlighted some key stories on these topics below:
Overviews of the Referendum: Reuters writes on the scene in North and South Sudan. The BBC describes “huge crowds” in South Sudan. Their correspondent “says he has not met a single person who says they will vote in favour of continued unity with the north.” VOA interviews E.J. Hoogendorn of the International Crisis Group, who notes the challenges that lie ahead. Al Jazeera reports on the turnout in the South and the North and also writes about international observers’ efforts. CNN also has a long and informative piece. Finally, Kenya’s Daily Nation assesses “What a Break Up Would Mean to the Sudanese and Africa.”
Abyei: Bloomberg reports on recent violence in Abyei:
Violence erupted on Jan. 7 and yesterday north of Abyei town, speaker Charles Abyei and the chief administrator of the area, Deng Arop Kuol, said in phone interviews yesterday from the region. All those killed were from the Ngok Dinka tribe, who regard themselves as southerners, they said.
The attackers were from the Misseriya tribe, which is backed by President Umar al-Bashir’s government, and men wearing plain clothes and Sudanese army uniforms, they said. They said they didn’t know if any Misseriya were killed.
AFP highlights the reaction of a Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (the SPLM, the ruling party in the South) spokesman:
A senior southern leader in Sudan on Sunday urged Khartoum to honour agreements on Abyei, after renewed fighting in the flashpoint oil district on the eve of an independence referendum for the south.
Deng Alor, a senior leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, reported clashes in Abyei, confirming reports that calm had returned to the district on Sunday after fighting the day before in which several people had been killed and wounded.
“If the National Congress (Party of the north) want peace, cooperation and benefits with the south, the way is to cooperate with the SPLM, and to accept the implementation of the agreement on Abyei,” Deng Alor said.
He added that militias organised by the NCP had carried out attacks in Abyei and in Bentiu, another key oil-producing district on the border.
Opinion/Blogs: President Barack Obama writes in the New York Times, “If the south chooses independence, the international community, including the United States, will have an interest in ensuring that the two nations that emerge succeed as stable and economically viable neighbors, because their fortunes are linked.” Dipnote (U.S. State Department blog) has a joint statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Støre, and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague. And Magdi Mofadal, a Sudanese (I think) diplomat writes, “Contrary to what these observers think, and in spite of the high stakes involved, a peaceful referendum in Sudan is on the way as happened in the general elections of April, 2010.”
Ranjit Bhaskar blogs from Juba for Al Jazeera.
At Foreign Policy, Robert Klitgaard says, “Southern Sudan faces enormous challenges, but the leaders I met were frank about the difficulties and creative about the keys to success. If they keep the heat on, they can do their people proud and make the first few years of the newest and perhaps most problematic country in the world a model for others to follow.” But Rob Crilly writes, grimly, that “without support, cash and expertise the South is a failed state in waiting.”
Finally, Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a great roundup of his own.
What are you reading/seeing?