REUTERS - North and South Sudan could join forces in a European Union-style pact if southerners vote to secede in Sunday's independence referendum, Sudan's president said in an interview on Friday.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told the Al-Jazeera TV channel southerners could a
lso be offered rights of free residency, movement, work and ownership in Sudan after the split, but added they could not be dual nationals.
They were the latest in a series of conciliatory comments from the president, two days ahead of the scheduled start of the vote on whether south Sudan should declare independence.
"We are not speaking now about joint defence. But there are now discussions about establishing a union between two partners to look for joint interests in security and economics and development like the European Union," said Bashir.
He did not specify who had been taking part in the talks. But northern and southern leaders have been locked in negotiations over how they would share oil revenues, debts, and other issues after an expected southern vote for separation.
"We need an agreement about the four freedoms," he said, referring to an existing deal granting Egyptians rights in Sudan including residency, work, entry without visas and the ownership of property and businesses.
He said southerners could not have dual north-south nationality after a split and would be barred from state jobs.
Bashir warned the Dinka Ngok tribe, associated with the south, against annexing the contested central Abyei region, saying it could lead to conflict.
The status of Abyei is another issue that needs to be resolved in the south's expected transition to independence, along with the position of the north-south border.
Senior members of Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), who were campaigning for unity, have acknowledged southerners are almost certain to choose independence in the week-long vote, scheduled to start on Jan. 9.
The vote was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war, Africa's longest conflict that killed an estimated 2 million people.
There was a jubilant mood on the streets of the southern capital Juba as independence supporters danced, chanted and held rallies.
"I feel great because we are going to have our own nation, free, fair with justice and equality," said Robert Pitia, a taxi driver from Juba.
Bashir visited Juba on Tuesday and promised to accept the result of the vote.
On Thursday, Sudan's foreign minister Ali Karti built on the conciliatory mood telling reporters in Khartoum: "If the referendum is carried out in a correct way with no interference then we will be the first state to recognise the south and we will be the first embassy in the south."
Sudan's former vice president Joseph Lagu told Reuters on Thursday the north and south need a common authority to coordinate political and economic issues after the referendum similar to the East African Community, a five-nation trade bloc.