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D. Kilgour: Opportunities/Hazards of South Sudan Referendum

Concerns raised at a Parliament Hill Rally of the Friends of Sudan, Ottawa, Canada, January 7, 2011 in light of the January 9 South Sudan Referendum

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 provided for a referendum on South Sudan’s future. All who have followed Sudan’s post-independence history, with so much loss of innocent lives and suffering, must hope that the vote beginning in two days will go peacefully.

President al-Bashir is for once to be complimented for promising in Juba this week that he will respect the referendum regardless of the result and help build a “brotherly” nation if southerners vote for independence. All friends of Sudan can only hope that he will carry through with this unexpected commitment. It is, however, deeply troubling that the violence in Darfur has worsened in the run-up to the voting in the south.

The major hazards of the vote were set out by one of the New York Times' most discerning writers, Nick Kristof, on September 29, 2010.  (For links to articles, click here.) He envisions a scenario in which 91 percent of the voters choose secession but the north declares the vote invalid because fewer than 60 percent of people voted. Then tribal militias from the north sweep through South Sudan villages, raping inhabitants, and armed forces seize oil wells in the south.

On September 19, 2010, an open letter to all our Members of Parliament drafted by the Friends of Sudan (Canada) said in part:

“… we recommend that the Prime Minister urge in the strongest possible terms that internally displaced (IDPs) Southern Sudanese living in the north be repatriated with the assistance of the UNHCR and other agencies, and that the Sudan Referendum Commission recognize the voting rights of the Sudanese refugee Diaspora dual citizenships living in Canada and the U.S. by opening Outside Country Vote Centres in major cities. There is much more to be done to ensure the continuance of peace in Sudan, but given the urgency of the referenda situation we believe that common action by MPs would be an excellent first step. Therefore, there is urgency for special envoy to represent Canada’s interest in Sudan in referenda.”

With the south Sudanese highly likely to vote for independence, Canada and other nations should be positioning themselves for a major crisis now. Canadian taxpayers have sent about $800-million to Sudan since 2006 alone. The presence of our embassy staff, a $7-million contribution to a U N fund to support referendum activities and $2-million for Jimmy Carter’s election-monitoring centre seem terribly insufficient for the upcoming weeks.

Since 2005, Canada has also deployed more than 400 soldiers and civilian peacekeepers to disarm rebel forces, train local police and
help implement the C.P.A. It will unfortunately be necessary for friendly governments, including Canada’s, to maintain a strong
peacekeeper presence should conflict arise over oil in the South.

To read more of Hon. David Kilgour's analyses, click here.