8:39am

Mon February 7, 2011
Africa

Sudan's Leader: We Will Respect Southern Secession

The final tally is in, and Southern Sudanese have voted for independence by a staggering margin. The nearly Texas-sized territory is now slated to become the world's newest nation in July.

Nearly 99 percent of Southern Sudanese voted to split Africa's largest country, according to final results released in Khartoum.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had resisted the vote until the 11th hour, warning that splitting Africa's largest nation could reignite decades of deadly civil war that destabilized the entire region. Bashir now says the north will accept the south's decision to secede.

"We will commit to the final result and respect the choice of the people of the south," he told supporters.

In Washington, the Obama administration said it will consider taking Sudan off a terrorism list — a diplomatic reward for allowing Southern Sudan to secede.

"We will begin the process of removing Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list, with the obvious qualification that Sudan has to meet the criteria under law before that action can be taken," spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Khartoum for accepting the outcome and congratulated Sudanese leaders from the north and south for facilitating a peaceful and orderly independence vote.

Southern Sudan announced Jan. 30 that 99 percent of voters in the south opted for independence during the referendum, which was part of a 2005 north-south peace deal brokered by the United States.

The result of the vote wasn't surprising. During Sudan's vicious civil war, the mostly Muslim north sent Arab militias to burn villages and slaughter citizens in the largely animist and Christian south.

Many Southern Sudanese said they voted for independence because they felt the north had neglected their development. The south has perhaps 25 miles of paved roads and few schools of higher learning.

Before separation in July, Southern Sudan must grapple with tough issues such as underdevelopment, ethnic tension and a potentially explosive unresolved question over the disputed oil-rich Abyei region. The south's economy also must be disentangled from the north's. That will mean agreeing to share petroleum revenues and precious Nile River waters. International donors have warned both north and south Sudan that development funds will be limited after the split.

Secession also has sparked violence within the north's military, the Sudanese Armed Forces. It keeps units in Southern Sudan that will be expected to move back north if the preliminary referendum results are confirmed.

At least 30 soldiers were killed in a dispute over who gets to keep the artillery they are holding in Southern Sudan, officials said Sunday.

The fighting took place Saturday in two towns in Upper Nile state between soldiers of the Sudanese Armed Forces, said Akuoc Teng Diing, the county commissioner of Melut, where some of the conflict took place. Diing said soldiers also fought each other in Paloich, nearly 93 miles northeast of Upper Nile state's capital, Malakal. Paloich is the site of the most productive oil fields in Sudan. Some 300,000 barrels of oil are pumped daily from the fields.

Diing said 11 soldiers were killed in Paloich and 19 in Melut. He said most of the soldiers in the Sudanese Armed Forces unit are southerners who had fought on the side of the north during the 21-year war between the north and south.

On Thursday and Friday, a separate unit of Sudanese Armed Forces soldiers fought each other, with initial reports saying nine died. Under the 2005 peace deal, both regions are allowed to keep separate armies. That deal also allows the north to keep some units in the south.

Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for Southern Sudan's military, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, said Saturday that the death toll from the fighting in Malakal rose to more than 20.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Abidjan, Frank Langfitt in Nairobi and Michele Kelemen in Washington contributed to this report, which also contains material from The Associated Press. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.