Sudan's parliament passed a law Tuesday laying the groundwork for a January referendum on full independence for the semi-autonomous South. But lawmakers from the South walked out in protest at a clause that grants diaspora southerners a vote.
REUTERS - Sudan's parliament on Tuesday passed a long-awaited bill setting out the conditions in which a January 2011 referendum on independence for the country's oil-producing south would be considered to be valid.
According to the bill, 60 percent of the southern Sudanese electorate will have to turn out to make the referendum legitimate. South Sudan will split away from the north if more than half of voters choose independence.
But of the south's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) walked out before the vote, criticising one of the bill's articles that allowed South Sudanese living in the north to register and vote.
Analysts warn the south could return to war if there is any sign Khartoum will not go through with the vote and that would have a devastating impact on the country, its oil industry and stability in the region.
"Finally, after a long journey, we approved this law," said parliamentary speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir who is a member of the National Congress Party (NCP) which dominates the north.
After months of wrangling, leaders from the SPLM and NCP agreed on the bill's terms in a series of late night meetings this month.
But distrust runs deep between north and south and many southern leaders, who would prefer the vote take place only in the south, criticised the legislation.
"What happened today was the biggest mistake that has happened since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement," senior SPLM official Yasir Arman said.
"How can the parliament approve the law for the referendum for South Sudan without the participation of representatives from South Sudan?" he added.
South Sudan secured the independence vote, due in January 2011, as part of a 2005 peace accord that ended two decades of civil war with the north that killed 2 million people.
Many southerners, embittered by years of bloodshed, are thought to favour independence. Leaders from the SPLM have been making increasingly separatist public comments in recent months.
Secession would mean Khartoum would lose control of most of the country's proven oil reserves, predominantly found in the south, though the landlocked south is dependent on northern pipelines to carry its oil to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Sudan's north and south are split over differences in ideology, ethnicity and religion. North Sudan is mostly Muslim while southerners are largely Christian and followers of traditional beliefs.
Date created : 2009-12-22