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Africa

Sudan secession signed, sealed and almost delivered

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has formally issued a decree accepting the result of last month’s referendum in southern Sudan overwhelmingly in favor of secession from the north. However a number of problems remain.

Bashir in front of a map showing the north, the south and Darfur to the west

President Al-Bashir will soon no longer be the leader of all Sudanese

Sudan's president on Monday said he accepted a southern vote for independence in a referendum that will create the world's newest nation.

"We announce our respect and acceptance of the choice of the people of the south and of the result of the referendum," Minister of Presidential Affairs Bakri Hassan Saleh said on Sudanese state television, reading the text of the presidential decree.

Final results of the plebiscite show that nearly 99 percent of voters from Sudan's south chose to secede from the north. The date for the official split is expected to be July 9.

The outcome of the referendum seals the division of Africa's largest country geographically, but also ushers in a period of uncertainty as the two sides grapple with unresolved issues.

What happens next?

Because the south voted overwhelmingly for independence, it can expect quick recognition from Washington, London, the European Union and the African Union. Most important will be the north's recognition, which President Bashir has promised to give.

Walter Lindner of the German foreign ministry

German expert warns not to ignore the problems of northern Sudan

But the north itself and the fragile situation there must not be ignored, says Walter Lindner, the Under-Secretary for African Affairs in Germany's foreign ministry.

"If you put yourself in the north's shoes for a minute, then you must recognize that it has lost a third of its territory and two-thirds of its oil revenues; the Darfur problem is unresolved, and it has a president who has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court," said Lindner.

Some diplomats speculate, however, that one of the concessions to Bashir for his cooperation in an orderly secession of the south would be the suspension of the international arrest warrant issued by the Hague court.

This would be a disastrous signal, according to the German Green party politician, Kerstin Müller, and make a mockery of the process and the victims.

Lindner also wants to put Sudan on the agenda at the UN Security Council, of which Germany is currently a non-permanent member. Müller agrees, but criticizes that this has not been done already.

Müller is a strong proponent of a joint international effort on Sudan because someone has to oversee the changes there.

"Someone must be the driving force. But it should not just be the Americans and also not the Chinese, because the Chinese are more of a protector of the north. We, as the European Union, should be the one who want development. But development and stability with the stipulation that democracy and the rule of law are implemented," Müller said.

Map and information chart for Sudan

The separation into two countries may not be as painful as the struggle, but it will be just as arduous

Bilateral problems just beginning

The south, in any case, can now begin working on gaining membership in key bodies, such as the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The new, predominately Christian and animist south, one of the poorest regions of Africa, desperately needs international aid to rebuild after decades of war and struggle with the Arab and Muslim north.

Sudan's debilitating $40 billion (28.6 billion euro) external debt is a burden on the north, but the south is unlikely to take on any portion of it, which could exclude it from getting concessional loans from the IMF and World Bank. The north has insisted that the debt is a joint responsibility, but it is not at all clear to what extent the south is liable for it. The issue will most likely only be resolved after lengthy negotiations with international creditors.

Who gets what becomes an even stickier issue when assessing the country's oil wealth.

The north is in the midst of an economic crisis with soaring inflation and a shortage of foreign exchange, while the south needs money for reconstruction.

While the sharing of oil revenues will most likely continue after secession - given that most of the oil is in the south with infrastructure in the north - it is not clear what percentage the north will get. That, too, will require negotiations and political concessions.

The same holds true for water rights from the precious Nile River and the distribution network with pipelines and reservoirs.

Southern Sudanese showing support for independence

The people of southern Sudan demonstrated their support for independence by voting overwhelmingly for secession

Government jobs and citizenship

President Bashir has already made it clear that no one can hold dual north and south nationalities after July 9. This means that southerners cannot hold government jobs unless they renounce their southern citizenship.

This problem also extends to the military, where most probably some 22,000 southern soldiers will have to leave the northern army.

The extent to which opposition parties and civil society are involved in the writing of new constitutions for both countries will be an indication of how both nations will be ruled after secession - either as one-party states or as multilateral democracies.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa,AFP,Reuters)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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