Southern Sudan's ruling party risks future conflict in its oil-rich territory if it doesn't include opposition parties in decisions during the run-up to its July independence declaration, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's democracy rights group said Thursday.
Distrust between the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, and opposition parties is a critical challenge that "undermines the unity of Southern Sudan on the eve of its independence," The Carter Center said.
The Carter Center, which deployed observers to monitor the south's independence referendum in January, warned that the south's ruling party was failing to uphold its commitments to include opposition parties in key aspects of the region's political transition, including the review of its interim constitution.
"The way in which the south's ruling party handles the current period will be indicative of its overall attitudes toward governance and democracy in the new country of Southern Sudan," said Maggie Ray, who leads the Center's observation mission in the south.
"There is reason for concern with the SPLM's approach to date," Ray told The Associated Press, citing anger among southern opposition leaders at the way the ruling party has handled the interim constitution process.
Pagan Amum, the secretary general of the SPLM, said: "The SPLM believes that the future of Southern Sudan lies in building a multiparty democracy based on respect for and guarantees of basic freedoms and human rights."
The new constitution becomes law July 9, when the south declares independence, and expires at the end of the south's transitional period, after the new country holds elections and adopts a permanent constitution.
The length of that period has not yet been defined but the Carter Center is concerned that some southern officials want to lengthen it. That would delay the new country's first elections and forestall the development of a multiparty system.
The south's ruling party is led by former rebel fighters from the southern guerilla army that fought more than two decades of war against the northern Sudanese government, which has long pursued "divide-and-rule" policies in order to stay in control of Africa's largest country.
The optimism that followed the south's peaceful referendum in January has since been overshadowed by a spate of violence. Fighting between the southern army and rebels has killed hundreds in two southern states and the unresolved status of the flashpoint north-south border zone of Abyei threatens to derail north-south relations.