Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 11:28 UK

Sudan faces 'historic crossroads'

Salva Kiir
Salva Kiir said Sudan must be ready for either unity or separation

The leader of southern Sudan says the country is at a "historic crossroads", as it gears up for a national vote and a secession referendum for the south.

Salva Kiir also raised the prospect of conflict between north and south resuming despite a 2005 peace deal.

"We don't want to go back to war but people have to be alerted [sic] always," he told a conference of opponents of President Omar al-Bashir.

Meanwhile, the president has ended years of censorship on newspapers.

Until now, state censors inspected newspapers before they were published and removed articles they did not approve of.

The presidential decree ending this came after journalists pledged to sign up to a new code of ethics.

Ready for anything

Some reporters fear that it will still be difficult to write about the war in Darfur and the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Mr Bashir for alleged war crimes committed there.

The BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum says press freedom is seen as a key condition for the April 2010 election to be free and fair.


Tension is rising in the run-up to the poll - the first national election since the end of the two-decade north-south conflict in 2005.

Mr Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has accused northerners of stirring up recent ethnic violence in the south, which has left hundreds of people dead.

President Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) has rejected the accusations.

The NCP and SPLM are in a shaky coalition at national level, with some SPLM officials feeling the former rebels are being marginalised.

"To us in the SPLM, unity is a noble cause, but not any unity," Mr Kiir said, according to the AFP news agency.

"Unity that does not generate a value-added to the present status of South Sudan does not attract anybody.

"The two possibilities of unity and secession... are real. Consequently, wisdom dictates us that we prepare ourselves to both eventualities."

At the conference in the southern Sudanese capital Juba, prominent Islamist politician Hassan al-Turabi repeated his calls for Mr Bashir to travel to The Hague to face ICC trial.

Mr Turabi has previously been arrested for making these calls.

Semi-autonomous southern Sudan has been controlled by Mr Kiir's SPLM since the peace deal ended the civil war.

The NCP refused to take part in the conference.

Our reporter says the gathering of so many political heavyweights in one place must be of concern to those who are not there.

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