Leaders of Sudan's two most powerful neighbors will be meeting with the president in Khartoum Tuesday to discuss the future of the country ahead of a referendum that could well split Africa's largest nation in two.
The meeting comes less than three weeks before the people of south Sudan vote in a Jan. 9 referendum on the secession of their mainly animist and Christian south from the Arab and mainly Muslim north.
The southerners, embittered and scarred by nearly four decades of war with the north, are most likely to vote for secession.
News of the summit, which would bring together Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has been circulating for days in the Arab media but was only confirmed late Sunday by the official Sudan News Agency.
In Cairo, officials said southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir was likely to join the three leaders in the Khartoum meeting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicize the information.
The referendum is required under a 2005 peace accord between the north and the south that ended more than 20 years of civil war. It was the second bout of conflict between the two since independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1955.
The first one lasted 17 years, ending in 1972.
The secession of the south, al-Bashir told supporters at a Sunday rally, would be "the loss of a part of the homeland but it would not be the end of the world."
Both Libya and Egypt view Sudan as their strategic backyard and would want to see the breakup of their southern neighbor to be peaceful and avoid any massive flow of refugees into their territory as a result of renewed fighting.
While Libya sees Sudan as a vital piece of its Africa-focused foreign policy, there is much more at stake there for Egypt, the most populous Arab nation. Sudan lies astride the middle reaches of the Nile, the primary source of water for mainly desert Egypt.
The White Nile, one of the river's two main tributaries, runs through south Sudan. Egypt fears an independent south Sudan may come under the influence of rival Nile basin nations like Ethiopia that have been complaining Egypt uses more than its fair share of the river's water. "Guaranteeing our water needs and safeguarding our Nile resources are a central component of our vision for the future," Mubarak told his parliament on Sunday.
Egypt, he added, would continue its "dialogue and coordination" with Nile basin countries to safeguard common interests and offer them technical assistance in development projects.