Reuters: South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in first call for independence
By REUTERS October 31, 2009 1:46 p.m. ET
South Sudan President In First Call For Independence
JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan's president on Saturday urged southerners to choose independence in a referendum if they wanted to be free, the closest he has come to calling publicly for the separation of the oil-producing region.UPDATE on Monday, 02 November 2009 UK GMT 9:16 AM:
The south secured a vote on whether to break away from Sudan as part of a peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war with the north. But until now, southern president Salva Kiir has stuck to the official line of building support for unity.
"When you reach your ballot boxes the choice is yours: you want to vote for unity so that you become a second class in your own country, that is your choice," he told a cathedral congregation in the south's capital Juba during a service to launch a prayer campaign for elections due in 2010 and the referendum in 2011.
"If you want to vote for independence so that you are a free person in your independent state, that will be your own choice and we will respect the choice of the people."
The comments will add pressure to the already troubled relationship between Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the north's dominant National Congress Party (NCP).
Both sides promised to build up a campaign to make the unity of Sudan attractive to voters when they signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that settled the civil war.
Most southerners, embittered by the long war and the lack of development in the south since it ended, are widely thought to support independence. But their leaders had so far not gone as far as openly saying they want to split.
Southern independence is a highly sensitive subject, particularly in the north. The bulk of Sudan's proven oil reserves are in the south, while refineries and Sudan's only port are in the north.
No one from the NCP was immediately available to comment.
Two million people were killed and 4 million fled their homes between 1983 and 2005 as Sudan's north and south battled over differences of ideology, ethnicity and religion. North Sudan is mostly Muslim while southerners are largely Christian and followers of traditional beliefs.
(Reporting by Jose Vieira, writing by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Kevin Liffey)