Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir pledged on Tuesday to help build a secure, stable and brotherly state in the south if it votes for independence in a referendum less than two weeks away.
"We will not deny our southern brothers their decision, and we will help them to build their state, because we want a secure and stable state... if there are troubles, these troubles will come to us," Bashir said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Speaking before thousands of supporters in Gezira state, Sudan's breadbasket southeast of Khartoum, Bashir said he would be "the first to recognise the south" if it chooses secession in a free and fair vote on 9 January.
"The ball is in your court and the decision is yours. If you say unity, welcome. And if you say secession, also welcome, and welcome to a new brotherly state."
"We are going to cooperate and integrate in all areas because what is between us is more than what is between any other countries."
Some 3.5 million southerners are registered to vote in the plebiscite, according to referendum commission spokesman George Makuer Benjamin.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide in Darfur, said earlier this month that the north would reinforce sharia, or Islamic law, after the referendum which is widely expected to grant the south independence.