SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Separatist conflicts could spread through Africa like a disease if Sudan decides in a referendum early next year to split into two, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Sunday.
Sudan is scheduled to start voting on January 9 in a referendum on whether to grant independence to the oil-producing south of the country, which fought a war with Khartoum before agreeing a peace deal five years ago.
Gaddafi, speaking at a summit of African and Arab leaders in the Libyan city of Sirte, said the world had to respect the outcome of the referendum, but a vote in favour of independence would create a dangerous precedent.
“What will happen in southern Sudan (if it becomes independent) will be a disease and will spread to all of Africa,” Gaddafi said. “Africa needs foreign investment and stability. With this precedent, investors will be frightened to invest in Africa.”
Sudanese state media quoted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir accusing southern leaders of a failure to respect the terms of their peace deal and warning of renewed conflict if differences are not settled before the referendum.
In power since he led a coup in 1969, Gaddafi is Africa’s longest-serving leader. His country’s oil wealth and the millions of dollars it hands out to African countries in aid and investment give him diplomatic weight on the continent.
Gaddafi chaired a session of the Arab-African summit, which is designed to bridge differences between the two regions and encourage Arab investors to put money into African projects.
Gaddafi issued in his speech an apology for what he said was the Arab world’s shameful history of trading African slaves. Historians say Arab traders seized millions of sub-Saharan Africans and sold them into slavery in the Middle East and North Africa, a practice that went on for hundreds of years and continued in some forms into the 20th century.
“I regret the behaviour of the Arabs...They brought African children to North Africa. They made them slaves. They sold them like animals. They took them as slaves and traded them in a shameful way,” said Gaddafi.
“I regret and I am ashamed when we remember these practices. I apologise for this,” he said.
Writing by Christian Lowe
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