Carter: Erase Sudan's debt
Juba - Former US President Jimmy Carter called on the international community on Thursday to forgive Sudan's $39bn debt burden so that dividing it between the north and south won't become another issue to resolve after Southern Sudan likely votes to become its own nation.
A week-long independence referendum is expected to divide Africa's largest nation in two, but officials have not yet determined how the finances will be separated.
The presidents of Sudan and Southern Sudan "both hope the entire debt will be forgiven without getting them in another unnecessary argument about who has what percentage of the debt," Carter said on Thursday.
The World Bank says $30bn of Sudan's debt is currently in arrears, and Southern Sudan remains desperately poor despite its substantial oil reserves. The entire France-sized region has only 50km of paved roads and only 15% of its population can read.
The US already has offered Sudan's Khartoum-based government a range of incentives for a peaceful southern vote, including removal from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. In recent weeks Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has sought to play down fears of potential violence, saying the north will accept a vote for secession.
The north and south fought a two-decade war that killed 2 million people before a 2005 peace agreement.
Sudan, geographically the largest country on the continent, will lose a third of its land, nearly a quarter of its population if the south secedes. Khartoum's only consolation will be that the pipelines to get the product to market all run through its territory.
Carter has been in Sudan this week to monitor the historic independence vote and to meet with top officials. His foundation, the Carter Centre, has been involved in health programmes and democracy building in Sudan for more than two decades.
Polls remain open until Saturday, but Carter and southern officials say 60% of the 3.9 million registered voters have already cast ballots, the threshold required for the independence referendum to be valid.
Voters flooded the polls on Sunday and Monday, but voting stations have been much quieter since. There were reports of clashes in several states last weekend, including in the contested region of Abyei, but no new violence has been reported in more than 24 hours, and Carter said the vote has gone smoothly.
"We've had almost uniform reports that it's been calm and peaceful," he said.
Abyei had also been scheduled to hold a self-determination vote, but its fate now appears likely to be decided by north-south negotiations. Carter said the world needed to continue to pay attention to Sudan in the coming months so that violence does not again flare up.
Southerners, who mainly define themselves as African, have long resented their underdevelopment, accusing the northern Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of taking their oil revenues without investing in the south. Southerners - mainly animists or Christians - were also angered by attempts of the northern dominated government to impose Islamic law.
Independence won't be finalised until July, and many issues are yet to be worked out. They include north-south oil rights, water rights to the White Nile, border demarcation and the status of the contested region of Abyei, a north-south border region where the biggest threat of a return to conflict exists.