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Sudan elections set stage for independence of south

Crucial national elections are seen as first step to freedom for Southern Sudan.

Sudan’s President Omar Hasan al-Bashir — who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for alleged atrocities in Darfur — is running for re-election. Eleven other candidates were running against him but in recent weeks many of them have announced they are boycotting the polls.

Bashir has said that he wants a united Sudan, but promised to honor the referendum if it favors separation.

No matter what happens in the upcoming elections, some southern Sudanese said they are prepared to return to the battlefield for their independence.

“To me, we need to be independent,’’ Manyok said. “We’re capable of making a national republic. We don’t want to be with the Arabs. I will vote for separation because there’s nothing left. I want us to be our own nation of black Sudanese.’’

The United Nations and other aid groups say continuing inter-ethnic violence is hampering its ability to respond to emergencies and provide health care, education, sanitation and water in southern Sudan.

A coalition of 10 aid organizations warned that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was on the brink of collapse because of a “lethal cocktail’’ of rising violence, chronic poverty and political tensions. Some observers fear that the north will not give up the oil-rich south without a fight.

Gov. Paul Malong Awen Anei, of Aweil Town, said security is a concern in southern Sudan and officials fear it could threaten the referendum.

Southern Sudan, he said, cannot reconcile with the north, simply because the Arab government wants to share in the south’s wealth.

“How much are we buying this liberty? They’re sucking our resources,’’ said Anei, who was a commander with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. "If we managed to fight a war for 21 years, I can go back [to war]. Why should we be forced to divide our resources with the north? It is our right. They have to accept it.’’

Yar Akech, 26, who lives in Juba, said the referendum is the best hope for southern Sudan.
“We’ve got to have our own southern Sudan because we lost too many lives,’’ she said. “The suffering has been long for us.’’

Akech’s father died from the lack of health care, leaving her mother to raise six children in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

She was among a number of young people the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement helped secure scholarships to finish high school and college. She was a protege of the late John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan before he died in a helicopter crash in 2005.

After receiving a degree in economics from a university in Kenya, Akech returned to southern Sudan in 2005 to promote girls education and drill wells.

“I think the referendum is the way to go for southern Sudan,’’ she said.