Tensions over vote to split Sudan

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

A referendum on independence for Southern Sudan is scheduled for January. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with correspondent Rebecca Hamilton in Khartoum. She says preparations for the vote are behind schedule, and a delay could trigger war.

MARCO WERMAN: Rebecca Hamilton is a correspondent from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. She joins us from Khartoum. Now, as we've just heard, this momentous referendum on whether to split Sudan, which is African's largest country geographically, is just around the corner. It's in January. You're in the north in Sudan's capital. Are preparations for the referendum well underway there?

REBECCA HAMILTON: I certainly wouldn't say that they're well underway. It's only just recently that the commission that is going to establish the referendum, the people have been designated, and I have spoke to the head of the commission yesterday, Professor Ibrahim Khalil, and he was explaining to me that at the moment not only do they not have a budget, they don't have even physical premises, they don't have any staff. The challenges that they face in order to have this referendum go forward on time are absolutely immense. But weighed against that, there is an incredible amount of political pressure for the referendum to have it on time because there is a fear that if it doesn't then people within the main southern opposition party will make a unilateral declaration of independence and there is a concern that that in turn could trigger war.

WERMAN: Southern Sudan has huge oil riches. It's hard to believe the government in the north would actually allow it to just break away taking all that wealth with it.

HAMILTON: And I don't think it will. I don't think that realistically the issue on the table is that if the south breaks away, it will get to keep, certainly in the short term, 100% of the oil that is on its territory. What the north has in its favor is that although 80% of Sudan's oil is in the south, all the infrastructure that can get that oil to export runs through the north. The pipeline, the refineries, and out to Port Sudan. And so there is definitely room for some kind of negotiated arrangement around this. And I was doing an interview with the new Minister of Oil, also yesterday, who is interestingly a southerner, and he was talking about sort of in the terms they use, sensitizing the parties to the idea of a phase-out arrangement. So at the moment the north is getting 50% of south Sudan oil. Perhaps if there is secession then for the first year or two, that drops down to 40%, 30, and so on. So that it is not an immediate break for the north losing all this oil which is really the majority of their budget.

WERMAN: Let's return to that arrest warrant for Sudan's President al-Bashir. Connect the dots for us between this indicted war criminal and the slow pace of this nation-building exercise for the south of Sudan.

HAMILTON: An interesting thing in Khartoum right now, I was here last year and at that time the local journalists were saying that if they wrote anything about the International Criminal Court or about Darfur, that would be censored out of their newspapers. Today it's different. Today the government here is much less concerned about the International Criminal Court and we see that most clearly now with President Bashir's visit to Chad. He simply � he feels immune, he feels emboldened, he's not concerned about it. They don't care too much if things are written about Darfur. They know that international attention has gone away from Darfur. The one thing that they care very much is that no one talked about the possibility of a separate south. So the journalists, when they right a column or an article that talks about people who are supporting an independent south, a vote for secession, that is always screened out of their articles.

WERMAN: If some leader in some country were to step up and act on the arrest warrant and hand al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, would the referendum happen on time do you think?

HAMILTON: It's very hard to say and I think that may be why the US is not pushing the Chadian government, for example, to execute the warrant for fear that if Bashir was to be taken out right now, the situation would be sufficiently destabilized that the referendum wouldn't go ahead on time.

WERMAN: Rebecca Hamilton, a correspondent from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, speaking with us from Khartoum. Thanks very much for your take on this.

HAMILTON: Thank you very much.