Kiir assures country there will be no returning to war
By David Ochami in Juba
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit and US Senator John Kerry have said there will be "no return to war" if South Sudan secedes from the Sudanese union in a separation referendum that starts today.
Kiir appealed to the international community to ensure the Khartoum authorities accept the referendum outcome. He said South Sudan will coexist peacefully with its new neighbour if it secedes.
"There is no return to war. The referendum will not be the end of a journey. It will be the beginning of a new one. There is no substitute for peaceful existence," said Kiir.
On Friday evening, Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al Bashir said a unilateral annexation of oil rich Abyei by the South will be considered a declaration of war by the establishment in Khartoum. on Saturday, Kerry said Kiir had assured him he will not annex Abyei unilaterally. A concurrent referendum in Abyei will not be held due to disputes between Juba and Khartoum.
And they spoke about 20 hours after an attack on a Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) base in Unity state by militiamen suspected to have come from the North. Kiir described the start of the referendum as "a sacred day" with Kerry calling it "a historic moment" offering an opportunity to normalise relations between Sudan and the US and other Western nations.
The two leaders held lengthy discussions in Juba, South Sudan’s capital on Saturday and later addressed the press where they declared the seven-day voting will end peacefully. This morning, they will attend a church service and Kiir will open voting at the mausoleum of the late Dr John Garang in Juba.
Kerry who chairs the US Senate committee on Foreign Relations said the referendum offers a historic opportunity for Bashir’s regime to be rehabilitated internationally. This, he said, will depend on whether the Khartoum government will allow a free vote and solve the crisis in Darfur.
"My fellow countrymen and women I stand here to convey this peaceful message. The referendum which begins tomorrow (today) is a sacred day and my appeal to you is to behave in a peaceful and respectful manner," said Kiir
Kerry said the people of South Sudan have the right to determine their future and turn the page on centuries of "slavery, colonialism and post-colonial turmoil."
"All people of North and South Sudan should take pride in this historic moment," according to the former Democratic Party presidential candidate who hailed Bashir’s visit to Juba last week and the latter’s pledge to accept the South’s imminent secession.
Kerry said the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement should solve the Abyei and other outstanding issues within the six months interim period after the vote.
The Senator said the Obama administration could review relations with Sudan which it has labelled a State sponsor of terrorism within this period and then normalise relations with Khartoum.
He said the US would also consider advancing economic aid to Sudan depending on its post-referendum conduct.
He said the US is interested in ensuring stability in North Sudan regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
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