South Sudan vote risks being derailed by organisers: SPLM

KHARTOUM, Aug 12, 2010 (AFP) - A referendum due early next year on south Sudan's independence will be derailed unless the country's electoral commission swiftly resolves an internal row, a southern leader warned on Thursday.

"If the referendum commission within the next two weeks is not able to resolve all the issues that they are facing now, the referendum will be killed off and the referendum commission will be responsible for that," said Pagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

South Sudan is set to hold a referendum on January 9, as part of a 2005 peace deal, which promises southerners the chance to choose independence or to remain part of a united Sudan.

Parliament ratified a key law at the end of last year setting up the vote and the commission responsible for organising it, after nothern and southern leaders overcame a dispute that threatened to jeopardise the peace deal.

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir (C) gestures at the crowd during a gathering with supporters from Darfur in the capital Khartoum on August 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO

But the commission, which should have been formed at the beginning of 2010, was only nominated in June, and its members are still divided over who should head the commission.

"The commission now is paralysed, it is not working," Amum said.

"I am afraid there may be elements within the referendum commission that are actually planning... a postponement, or in the worst case a total betrayal (of the right) to be exercised by the people of southern Sudan," he added.

Under the referendum law, the final list of eligible voters should be drawn up by October 9, three months before the vote itself.

However, the commission has still not begun the laborious process of voter registration which is expected to take several weeks at least.

"We at the commission will begin the necessary measures to try to hold the referendum on time but we must warn the partners" there is not enough time, commission member Tarek Osman al-Taher told AFP on Monday.

His comments were condemned as "irresponsible" by the SPLM, the former southern rebel group that fought a devastating 22-year war with the north in which about two million people were killed before a power sharing deal was finally agreed in 2005.

"Sudan is entering a very dangerous and concerning moment," Amum said, adding any postponement of the referendum would "not be in the interests of peace."

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