Almost 99 percent of voters in southern Sudan voted last month in favor of independence from the mostly Muslim and Arab north, according to results released today. The January vote was the last big step in implementing a 2005 peace treaty that ended Africa's longest civil war, between north and south Sudan. The status of one small but oil-rich region on the border of the north and south, Abyei, still remains unresolved.
The International Criminal Court has indicted the Sudanese leader for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. But there's speculation that the West may seek to defer an arrest warrant for now, on the condition that al-Bashir cooperates with the south's breakaway process. Washington has also signaled that it may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, Reuters reported.
"We will announce today in front of the world our acceptance and respect for the choice of the people of the south," al-Bashir said in a speech on state TV, excerpted by VOA News. He acknowledged that the results of the referendum are "well known" and that southern Sudan has "chosen secession." Final results from last month's vote are scheduled to be released later today at a ceremony in Khartoum.
The president's comments today could allay fears that southern secession could spark more violence. And southern Sudanese are already celebrating their independence, ahead of an official declaration slated for July.
"This is our day for freedom," Santino Machar, a student in the southern capital of Juba, told AFP. "We are ready to celebrate all night long."