President Omar Al-Bashir’s visit on Tuesday to the southern Sudanese capital of Juba has lead to a mood of optimism that pending problems between the North and South could be resolved and ties between the two would be strengthened.
During his visit, his last before the January 9 referendum on southern secession, Bashir addressed officials and civil society representatives.
The secretary general of the Popular Movement, Baqam Amom, described Bashir's speech as soothing as it demonstrated that his government will respect the South’s choice, whether it is for unity or secession.
"Though it is obvious the President prefers unity, he will give his blessing to the southern decision,” said Amom. “He and his government will be the first to recognize and assist a newly born country of South Sudan."
"Unity means power to Sudan and the Sudanese but if the southerners would go for independence, we will congratulate them, we only want good relations," said Bashir.
Ironically, Bashir and his guards moved through the city in a car decorated with flags of the popular movement and bearing the symbol of secession. Cries were also heard as his parade drove by of "No to Unity, yes to separation" and banners were raised saying "bye bye Bashir, bye bye Khartoum."
Meanwhile, Sudanese President, and his Deputy, Silva Kiir, Head of South Sudan’s government, promised that they will not play any role in supporting each other's opposition. "We agreed with our southern brothers that they would not to provide shelter to rebel movements in Darfur and we will do the same," said Bashir.
"We have tried to support opponents from Ethiopia, Chad and Eritrea, but all we reaped is destruction and murder and we do not want to repeat this experience again," reiterated Bashir.
For his part, Kiir confirmed that he "would not allow anyone to use southern territories as an anti north base."
Both parties were urged by Amom to sit down together and solve their pending issues, including the disputed Abyei province.
“There is no course in front of us but to cooperate,” he explained. “We have the oil and they have the infrastructure. Oil will be of no benefit without pipes and the pipes will be of no benefit without oil. Oil will not be the only area of cooperation; we have economic relations and socio-cultural ones.”
“The decision to separate must not effect that, we don’t have animosity towards Al-Bashir but no one choosing between remaining with someone and independence would choose remaining with a partner.” Amom concluded.
In contrast, Chol Deng, a government employee, said: “We in the south were not partners, we were only second class citizens, for this we want secession.”
Bashir was scheduled to visit the memorial of the late SPLM leader John Garang who signed the peace treaty with the North’s government in Kenya just months before dying in a helicopter crash in July 2005.
He was also due to deliver a speech in front of the South Sudan parliament, however it was cancelled at the last moment without any reasons being given.