South Sudan leader calls for southern secession
By MOHAMED OSMAN Associated Press WRiter
Posted: 11/01/2009 07:39:14 AM MST
KHARTOUM, Sudan— The leader of southern Sudan called on his people to vote to secede from the country if they do not want to end up as second class citizens, as voter registration began Sunday for elections across the country.
Salva Kiir's first-ever call for the mostly Christian south to split off from the Muslim north could increase tension with the Arab-led northern government and further strain the fragile 2005 peace agreement that ended a 20-year north-south civil war that killed 2 million people.
"When you reach your ballot boxes the choice is yours: you want to vote for unity so that you become a second class in your own country, that is your choice," he told worshippers Saturday at the cathedral in the southern capital of Juba.
"If you want to vote for independence so that you are a free person in your independent state, that will be your own choice and we will respect the choice of the people," he added, according to a recording of the event obtained by the Associated Press.
More than two decades of north-south civil war ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that set up a national unity government, established a semiautonomous south and stipulated the holding of a 2011 referendum to determine the future of the south.
The agreement also calls for all Sudanese parties to work for unity prior to the referendum.
Last week, Kiir, who is part of the unity government, accused the Khartoum of never making "unity an attractive option" for the southerners and of failing to fully implement the peace agreement.
The Sudanese government largely dismissed Kiir's comments, saying Sunday that he had previously supported unity.
"We will take those statements in their context and in their time. They are said in a limited place and we would compare them his previous statements that are for unity," said Ibrahim Ghandour, the head of the ruling party's political department.
He said Kiir has repeatedly "assured us he is a man of unity and keen about the unity of the Sudan."
Southern Sudan's vice president, Riek Machar, said the Kiir's statements were not a change in southern policy but rather a way of saying that the northerners have not made unity attractive, leaving southerners angry.
"It is an expression of how south Sudanese people are getting frustrated," he told AP. "People want to see the peace dividends, the country reconciling and development."
The peace agreement also called for presidential and parliamentary elections across the country in April 2010 and Sunday, voter registration was under way in Sudan.
State television said over 20 million Sudanese were above 18 and would register at 15,000 centers across the country.
Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.