Global Politics

Sudan independence vote fosters fears of rejection

The people of southern Sudan are set to vote in a referendum on independence next month. If the vote passes, some northern Sudanese who live in the south fear they may no longer be welcome. Correspondent Sean Carberry reports from southern Sudan.

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Africa's largest country will probably split in two next month. The people of southern Sudan are set to vote in a referendum on independence. And they're likely to vote yes.

That would result in a mainly Muslim country in the north and a country in the south where traditional beliefs and Christianity dominate. That could cause problems for northern Muslims who are currently living in such southern Sudanese states as Upper Nile.

Upper Nile's capital is Malakal. The tiny 5 Stars Cafeteria there probably wouldn't pass a single health code in the US. But that doesn't stop locals from crowding into the fly-infested cafe for spicy meat sandwiches.

Hafez Abdullah Ahmed Yusuf opened the 5 Stars in 2006. He came from Blue Nile State in northern Sudan, where he said work was in limited supply.

�To work in northern Sudan,� he said, �you need money and connections, which I didn't have.�

So, he headed south.

Most of his customers are southerners, they're African, and mainly Christian or practice some form of traditional or tribal belief. Now, he said, he's part of the community in Malakal, despite being a Muslim Arab from the north.

�Living here in the south, we get used to the life here, and we have no problems here,� Yusuf said. �People don't isolate me. I'm a part of their community. I belong to them.�

Because there is no road from Malakal to southern Sudan's capital Juba, Upper Nile State is economically more connected to the north, which is part of the reason so many Arabs move here to do business.

But, as much as Yusuf feels a part of the community, he's not. The vote on the south's secession is open only to those born in the south before Sudan became independent in 1956, or the children of those born in the south.

And Yusuf said he isn't happy about that.

�I believe that I'm one of the south; I've lived here for a long time,� he said. �There's no difference between me and the black people. If the country is going to be separated, we urge the government to accept the ordinary citizens because we are one society.�

Adam Addou Adam is another merchant in Malakal. He's originally from Kordofan State just across the north-south border � which for now remains open for people from both sides to pass freely. The shopkeeper believes that the referendum will not affect relations between the two communities.

He said what's separating (after the vote) is the government from the government; it's not the trader or the normal people separating from the normal people.

�We do not isolate ourselves,� he said. �We share the same food, the same water, the same home. As a trader, I shouldn't have any problem working here after the referendum.�

Adam also moved to the south because the money was better, and he's been here for fifteen years. He still maintains livestock in the north and spends about two months there every year. Adam supports unity and believes Sudan should be one country, but he also expects that won't be the case.

He said he hope's he'll be able to remain in the south after separation. �If there is security and stability, we can stay here.�

But, security and stability ebb and flow in south Sudan, and in the Malakal area in particular � there were clashes here in the last couple of years that sent people fleeing the town.

Some northern Sudanese have already gone back because they are afraid about what's going to happen after the referendum.

Both Yusuf and Adam have seen friends pack up and head north in the past few months. And both Arabs and Africans in the south expect that more Arabs will flee before the referendum � out of fear of conflict, or because of reprisals against Arabs once the south has voted for separation.