Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir says he is prepared to assist southern Sudan if the region votes for independence on Sunday as expected.
In a rare visit to the southern capital of Juba Tuesday, Bashir said his government wants a unified Sudan but will, “celebrate” if the south chooses to secede.
He also said northern and southern Sudan have unique ties, and that Khartoum is prepared to give the south any technical or logistical support it needs.
Bashir has repeatedly indicated he will accept southern independence, after months of mixed signals from him and other officials in Sudan’s ruling party.
The south holds a referendum on the independence question Sunday. Organizers said Monday they are “100 percent prepared” for the poll. They said almost four million people — about half of the south’s population — have registered to vote.
A top official on the referendum commission, Chan Reec, said the poll will go forward despite a lack of promised funding from the Bashir government.
The referendum is a key part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of civil war between northern and southern Sudan.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan are due to lead a delegation of more than 100 international observers of the referendum.
Tension between supporters and opponents of secession has been running high ahead of the voting. Sudan’s constitutional court has been asked to dissolve the referendum commission, following complaints of fraud and intimidation during voter registration. A ruling is expected later this week.
Northern and southern Sudan remain divided on some key issues — including borders, oil revenue and the fate of the disputed Abyei region.
Oil-rich Abyei was to hold a separate referendum on whether to join the north or the south this Sunday. But that poll was never organized because of disputes over who is eligible to vote. The United States has called for a negotiated settlement of the Abyei issue.