November 15, 2010 / 1:00 PM / 9 years ago

Southern Sudanese want independence but fear fraud

MANDELA CAMP, Sudan (Reuters) - Surrounded by heaps of rubbish with dirt roads doubling up as open sewers, southern Sudanese living in slums surrounding Khartoum were in no rush to register for the vote which may grant them their own nation.

The January 9 plebiscite on southern independence ends a peace process that began with so much hope in 2005 when Sudan’s north and south ended Africa’s longest civil war and embarked on a six year process to make unity an attractive option to southerners.

“For six years we’ve been sitting here — no work, no water, no electricity — why would we ever vote for unity?” asked James Duot who fled north to Khartoum during the war.

It is hard to believe the new tarmac roads and towering gleaming skyscrapers of Khartoum are just a few kilometers away from the slums that have no services, no work and where people still live in rickety shacks made of ripped cloth held up by roughly cut wooden sticks.

Few of the hundreds of thousands of southerners in Khartoum, many of whom said they wanted their own country, were registering to vote at all on Monday.

“We just don’t trust the process here,” said Deng Anok, a Dinka tribal leader. “It won’t be real southerners voting up here,” he said.

Southerners registered en masse for April elections hoping to propel the south’s ruling party and former rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), to power.

But after a wave of irregularities appeared, the SPLM boycotted the vote in the north, accusing the northern ruling party, their former foes the National Congress Party, of fraud.

“We think they will fix the referendum here in the north too,” said Peter Dood. “We will go home to register and vote, or not vote at all,” he added.

In centers all over Khartoum, many had seen no southerners at all and others had registered only a handful almost five hours after the process began. By contrast people were queuing outside registration centers in the southern capital Juba.

An estimated 2 million southerners in the north of Sudan will be those most affected by any secession. They worry they could be chased out of the north and their property confiscated if the south secedes. Many were born there and others fled the war looking for safety.

The former north-south foes created a national coalition government in 2005 but have bickered over implementing almost every step of the deal, creating a wall of mistrust which has pushed many to believe unity is no longer an option.

One SPLM official who declined to be named said they had encouraged anyone outside the south not to register and the message appeared to be getting through.

“We told southerners not to register (here) so that the NCP doesn’t fix the referendum result,” he said.

The message was also to prevent an anomaly which could invalidate the referendum. More than 60 percent of those registered must vote for the result to be valid.

Secession would split Africa’s largest country in two. Much of Sudan’s modest 470,000 barrels per day of oil lies in the south.

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