KHARTOUM North and South Sudan could join forces in a European Union-style pact if southerners vote to secede in Sunday's independence referendum, Sudan's president said in an interview on Friday.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told the Al-Jazeera TV channel southerners could also be offered rights of free residency, movement, work and ownership in Sudan after the split, but added they could not be dual nationals.
They were the latest in a series of conciliatory comments from the president, two days ahead of the scheduled start of the vote on whether south Sudan should declare independence.
"We are not speaking now about joint defense. But there are now discussions about establishing a union between two partners to look for joint interests in security and economics and development like the European Union," said Bashir.
He did not specify who had been taking part in the discussions. But northern and southern leaders have been locked in negotiations over how they would share out oil revenues, debts and organize other issues after an expected southern vote for separation.
"We need an agreement about the four freedoms," he said, referring to an existing deal granting Egyptians rights in Sudan including residency, work, entry without visas and the ownership of property and businesses.
He said southerners could not have dual north-south nationality after a split and would be barred from government jobs.
Senior members of Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), who were campaigning for unity, have acknowledged southerners are almost certain to choose independence in the week-long vote, scheduled to start on January 9.
The vote was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war, Africa's longest conflict that killed an estimated 2 million people and forced 4 million to flee.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdel Aziz, writing by Andrew Heavens, editing by Janet Lawrence)