Sudan sets out referendum timetable

Southern Sudanese in the capital Juba, waving flags to welcome home their leader recently
Image caption The south is widely expected to vote for secession from the north

Sudan has announced a timetable for January's referendum on independence for the south of the country.

Voter registration will start on 14 November and end on 4 December, with campaigning starting a few days later.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of conflict between the north and oil-rich south in which some 1.5 million people died.

There has been growing international concern that the referendum could be delayed, sparking violence.

The BBC's Peter Martell in the southern capital, Juba, says the timing for the referendum - due to be held on 9 January - is extremely tight.

But Chan Reec, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, says he believes the timetable will be met - and only "unseen reasons" would delay it by a week or two.

"You can see that we will have no Christmas this year, because we will be working," he said.

However, preparations for the separate referendum also to be held on 9 January in Abyei, on whether the oil-rich region wants to be part of the north or south of the country, are making less headway.

UN-mediated talks are being held in Ethiopia to try and resolve disputes over voter eligibility and the physical demarcation of the state's border.

Hand-shake concerns

The announcement by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission comes as 15 members of the UN Security Council are visiting the region to make sure the controversial votes go ahead on time in a fair and peaceful manner.

The Security Council delegation will also be travelling to Darfur, where there has been renewed violence after the breakdown of a ceasefire between the government and the main rebel group.

UN missions there have faced mounting difficulties, with humanitarian workers blocked from conflict zones and peacekeepers killed in the fighting.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for alleged war crimes in Darfur, which he denies.

Correspondents say council members almost called off the trip because some were worried they would have to meet him and shake his hand, but went ahead after all the ambassadors agreed they would not ask for a meeting.

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