“Things are very clear to us. The southerners, if they choose to secede, will take their share of the Nile water from Sudan’s share and not from Egypt or any other country,” Deng Alor Kuol, the south Sudan minister of regional cooperation, told Ahram Online in an exclusive interview.
If south Sudan secedes, it would also assume a share of Sudan’s foreign debts, Kuol, added.
The question of debt allocation, however, remains shrouded in uncertainty, with Bashir's government denying statements by US president Jimmy Carter saying northern Sudan agreed to assume all debts leaving the South debt free.
As for relations with the north, Kuol said, “we want our relations to be based upon common interests. We have been one nation for more than a century and our common borders must be flexible enough to allow for the movement of northern herdsmen to the south in the drought season and for the southerners to travel to the north to work.”
Three million people live in villages and towns situated close to the borders.
As for the issues that were left pending until after the referendum, the minister expected those to be resolved before 9 July. Abyei, however, remains a thorny issue.
“The people of Abyei are angry because they weren’t given the right to vote, and this could lead to trouble,” Kuol remarked.
The minister blamed President Omar Al-Bashir for the deadlock. Al-Bashir, he pointed out, is supportive of the Misseriya tribe, giving them arms and money, and using them to stir trouble in the area.
The National Congress Party (NCP) has tried to exclude Abyei from the negotiations, but John Garang, the slain leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), refused to sign any agreement excluding Abyei. Consequently, US envoy Senator John Danforth mediated a settlement known as the Abyei Protocol, which allows the locals to decide whether they wish to stay in the north or join the south in a referendum that was scheduled for the same day as the referendum now being held in the south.
According to the Abyei Protocol, those allowed to vote in the referendum are the nine clans of the Ngok Dinka as well as any Sudanese living in the area since 1956. No specific mention has been made of the nomadic Misseriya tribe, who – according to Kuol - bring their cows to herd in Abyei from December to April of every year. Al-Bashir insists that this makes them residents of Abyei.
At one point, Al-Bashir demanded international arbitration which the southerners accepted, Kuol said -- though it gave all of the oil to the north. The Misseriya are allegedly being armed by the Khartoum government, while the Dinka are receiving arms from the SPLM.
A month ago, the Dinka prevented the Misseriya from entering Abyei in order to protect their crops from the Misseriya's cattle. Normally, the northern nomads would have forced their way in, but when they discovered that the Dinka were armed, they stopped in their tracks. The Dinka are now seeking legal advice on the question of self determination.
Abyei produces between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the Sudanese oil, which explains why the dispute has been hard to settle.
Kuol, who claims that his government has no reservation against China, is heavily involved in the Sudanese oil business. He, however, emphasised that the Chinese would have to talk to Juba, not Khartoum, in the future.
China has been the main backer of Al-Bashir’s government since Sudan came under international embargo in 1996.