Bashir travels south as secession vote looms

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has traveled to the southern city of Juba ahead of a vote to decide whether the south should break away from the rest of the east African nation.

Speaking to reporters, he reiterated his previous pledge to accept the outcome of Sunday's referendum.

"We are a civilized people," he said. "Regardless of how painful the results are, we will greet the result with forgiveness, and patience, and acceptance, and an open heart, god willing."

"I personally will be sad if Sudan splits. But at the same time I will be happy if we have peace in Sudan between the two sides," Bashir said in a speech to senior southern officials broadcast live on state television.

Bashir insisted he wanted good relations with the south if it chose independence, and repeated his message that the links between north and south Sudan were unique.

"Anything you need in terms of technical, logistical or professional support from Khartoum, you will find us ready to give it," he said. "The benefit we get from unity, we can also get it from two separate states."

Armed soldiers were seen patrolling the streets of Juba, which would be the capital of an independent south.

More than 3.5 million southerners are registered to participate in the referendum. Voting is due to start on Sunday and last for a week.

The referendum is a key plank of the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year civil war in which some two million people were killed and another four million displaced.