KHARTOUM, Nov 21 – Sudan\’s former southern rebels and the ruling party of President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday accused each other of resorting to intimidation ahead of a referendum on southern independence.
Top officials of the Sudan People\’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) said after visiting voter registration centres for the January 9 ballot that southerners living in the north were being pushed to choose unity in the referendum.
They said "citizens\’ committees" from Bashir\’s National Congress Party (NCP) were collecting the phone numbers of southerners who had signed up for the vote at the centres in the capital\’s suburbs.
The SPLM\’s Atem Garang said southerners were being told: "You must vote for unity when you come and vote next time."
"It is intimidation. It is against the law," Garang told a news conference in Khartoum.
But the ruling party hit back with accusations of its own.
Mandur al-Mahdi, a senior NCP official, accused the SPLM of "encouraging southerners not to register in the north because they think that most of the southerners living in the north will vote for unity.
"There are making lot of intimidation to the people. They are threatening the people, they are frightening the people, they are scaring the people in the north.
"They are launching a very strong campaign against registration in Khartoum state," Mahdi told AFP on the sidelines of a Khartoum pro-union gathering at which he appealed to hundreds of southerners to register.
Around five million southerners, living in both north and south Sudan and abroad, are eligible to sign up for the referendum which could result in the African continent\’s largest country being split into two.
For the south to secede in a valid referendum, there must be an absolute majority of a minimum of 50 percent for independence plus one vote, and 60 percent of those eligible must also have cast their ballots.
So far, few southerners living in the north have signed up. Many have received emails urging them to boycott the registration and therefore also the vote in a bid to prevent massive voter personation.
The SPLM on Saturday denied it was behind the boycott appeal.
"The southern Sudanese, we never urged them not to register because we want them to be free. When we talk about a free and fair referendum, it means when you are going to registration you must be free," Garang said.
"We did not to talk to them to boycott the registration."
Thousands of southerners have already left Khartoum for the south ahead of the referendum.
In September Information Minister Kamal Obeid sparked panic among the hundreds of thousands of southerners still living in the north with a warning that they stood to lose their citizenship if the south voted to break away.
His comments were later disavowed by Bashir, but not before they had sparked an outcry.
"This has actually agitated southern Sudanese to pack all their things and they are going to southern Sudan," Garang said.
"So if you register now (in the north) and during November, December, the family for sure will be in the south and you are registered in the north, then you will not (be able to) vote," he said.