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South Sudan vote threatens deadly flare up

Five years after its last civil war ended, votes due in months have reignited fears Africa’s biggest country will again spiral into crisis.The coming referendum next year on whether the country should separate is already causing tension to rise. In the south, last week, soldiers were paid for the first time in six weeks, according to The Independent newspaper. A referendum on independence was one of the key issues dividing south Sudan from the Islamic North, when both sides ended decades of civil war by signing a peace agreement in 2005. The peace deal made the south of Sudan a semi-autonomous state. Issues about religion, culture and oil complicated a north-south civil war that began in 1983, claimed 2 million lives and drove 4 million from their homes, destabilising much of east Africa. Most of Sudan's oil fields straddle the north-south border that has yet to be officially set out.  And Sudan has racked up about $30 billion in foreign debt.

Now there are fears South Sudan's vote on independence will lead to a new war unless key questions about the north-south border, nationality and debts are ironed out, a senior presidential adviser said. The law on the 2011 referendum, agreed last month after months of wrangling, lacks any deadline to resolve outstanding problems. "Imagine if we had the referendum and separation happened and we had not yet agreed on the borders?” asked Ghazi Salaheddin from President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's National Congress Party. “This is war," he told the small state-owned Blue Nile television, according Reuters news agency.

Hundreds of thousands of southerners in the north and northerners living in the south would be left in limbo if their nationalities were not defined, said Salaheddin. He also warned of regional problems over what international agreements a separate south would keep to. "The government cannot go ahead with this referendum until some of these issues have been discussed," he said. "It is (now) possible that the ... southerners could vote for separation without us having settled the issues of the border, nationality and international agreements and this is a prescription for war," he said. But Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which signed a 2005 north-south agreement sharing wealth and power, said Sahaleddin was being difficult and wanted to rewrite the peace deal. "If you make these things conditions for the referendum then it will never come," Atem Garang, the SPLM's deputy speaker of parliament, told Reuters.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children