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Clooney in Sudan for referendum

posted 8 Jan 2011, 09:07 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 8 Jan 2011, 09:15 ]

 U.S. movie star George Clooney says he is honoured to be in southern Sudan as they vote in an historic referendum that could split the country in two.

CHAD/SUDAN - American actor George Clooney was in Sudan on Saturday (January 8), one day ahead of a historic referendum in which south Sudan is expected to vote to secede from the north.

Oscar-winning Clooney has previously used his star power to focus attention on Sudan's Darfur region, where he said the first genocide of the 21st century was taking place. Clooney visited the border area between Chad and Sudan's Darfur region with his father Nick, a television news anchorman.

The referendum, guaranteed by a 2005 peace deal between north and south which ended Africa's longest civil war, is forecast to result in secession, but exactly how the two countries will begin to disentangle their economies, resources and people is far from clear.

Even the name of south Sudan has not been decided. Suggestions include New Sudan, Equatoria, Juwama or the Nile Republic.

Clooney agreed with most analysts who expect the south -- which produces almost 75 percent of Sudan's 500,000 barrels per day of oil -- to secede.

"There is such an electricity in the air," he said. "Just to see the beginning of a new country see a country and a people that have longed for this for generations and to see these people and to see the excitement that is in their eyes and in their heart is really something spectacular to be around."

Clooney was appointed a Messenger of Peace by U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon in 2008 for the work he has done in Darfur but he said there was still plenty of work to do.

"Abyei was - as excited as they are here, is how depressed they are there. They are the piece of the puzzle that, if they are neglected and if they are underestimated, could end up being, not could - would more than likely be - a part of the puzzle that could break apart any form of peace."

The south, which contains about 20 percent of Sudan's population of 40 million, derives some 98 percent of its budget from oil revenues. But this makes it hostage to the north, which has the infrastructure to refine and ship the oil; it would take years for the south to build its own infrastructure.

South Sudan's government will have to douse expectations among its people and even some of its own ministers that it will enjoy 100 percent of its oil revenues after independence. The north will demand a high price in the form of rents and fees to use its refineries, pipelines and port.

Citizenship rights, agreeing a border and how to patrol it, sharing assets and liabilities, dividing oil and Nile water resources, agreeing the status of the disputed Abyei region and co-ordinating economic policies are all potential flashpoints which have yet to be agreed just days ahead of voting.

"I think the reality is it's going to come down to a real hard-core negotiation about that and I think that the negotiators are going to have to understand that where there is probably some wiggle room with oil issues, in Abyei from the voices that we heard, there is no wiggle room on land," Clooney said.

Neither the north or south can afford a return to war and most expect they will continue some form of oil revenue-sharing after secession in order to offset a major economic shock to either economy. But investors are still wary given the major unknowns that surround the mechanics of separation and the fact that on the eve of voting, little of substance has been agreed between the two sides.