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Mbeki calls Southern Sudan election a 'decisive moment'

By Isma'il Kushkush, For CNN
  • Mbeki heads the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan
  • Residents of Southern Sudan will vote to create a new nation, or remain with the north
  • The vote will begin January 9

Khartoum, Sudan (CNN) -- Former South African President Thabo Mbeki Wednesday predicted a peaceful outcome if residents of Southern Sudan vote for independence in the election beginning Sunday.

Speaking in front of politicians, diplomats, academics and students at Khartoum's Friendship Hall, Mbeki played down fears that the possible secession of Southern Sudan would lead to an outbreak of violence.

"If the people of South Sudan vote for separation, there will be no war since the peace brought about by the (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) will be sustained," said Mbeki, who is currently serving as the chairman of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in January, 2005, and ended decades of war between north and south Sudan.

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The referendum, which begins January 9, will decide the question of whether the south will become independent, or remain part of a united Sudan.

"We are equally happy to inform this important gathering that both the government of Sudan and the SPLM (Sudan's Peoples Liberation Movement) have made the solemn and vitally important commitment that should the people of South Sudan vote for secession, they will work to ensure the emergence of peaceful coexistence of two viable states," Mbeki said.

"It also means that the two governments will take the necessary measures to ensure that southerner residents in the north and northerners in the south are not adversely affected by the separation," he explained. "This means that nobody will be rendered stateless."

The former South African president also said that unresolved issues between the north and south -- such as the futures of the district of Abyei, the regions of Blue Nile state and South Kordofan state, as well as the demarcation of the North-South border -- would be addressed.

All three regions will hold "popular consultations" on whether to remain as part of the north or join the south, Mbeki said.

Turning to Darfur, Mbeki said that the outcome of the current peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar, between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups will "be submitted to an inclusive process which will take place in Darfur to give the people in this region the opportunity to help to determine their future."

Those talks "will address all the necessary issues such as power and wealth sharing, compensation and development, justice and reconciliation and the place of Darfur within the larger Sudanese polity," Mbeki said.

The war in Darfur, which has been described by the U.S. Congress as "genocide," has led to the death of more than 300,000 people due to violence, malnutrition and disease. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Reflecting on the significance of current events in Sudan, Mbeki described it as "a decisive moment for Sudan in the context of its role and place in Africa."

"As it makes its new start, Sudan has the possibility to convey important lessons to the rest of our continent... about how to construct successful societies and states based on true respect for the rich diversity characteristic of many African countries."