KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese authorities said on Friday they would give southerners an extra week to register for a referendum on the independence of their region, but promised the extension would not delay the January 9 vote.
The announcement will add to concerns over the tight schedule for the politically sensitive plebiscite, already plagued by logistical delays and wrangling between northern and southern leaders.
The referendum gives people from the oil-producing south the chance to decide whether they should secede or stay part of Sudan, a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.
The south, which is widely expected to choose independence, has refused to accept any postponement of the vote and analysts have warned the disputes could reignite conflict.
The referendum’s organizing commission told Reuters they would extend registration by a week because some registration centres in the south, overwhelmed by the huge turnout, had run out of forms and needed more time to restock.
Registration will now end on December 8, commission member Chan Reek Madut said. “It is not going to affect the January 9 deadline ... We are going to reduce some days for reporting and complaints before then. It will be condensed,” he said.
Distrust between the two sides remains deep and the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has accused Khartoum of trying to disrupt the vote to keep control of the region’s oil.
Sudan’s south accused the northern army of carrying out an air strike on an army base in southern Sudan on Wednesday in an attempt to derail the referendum.
The north’s army and the ruling National Congress Party, led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir who is campaigning for unity, has dismissed the accusations.
Madut said he could not comment on the impact of reducing the time set aside for people to question the registration list.
“It was a political decision,” he said, referring to the promise not to postpone the voting day. “We are working round the clock to make it happen on time.”
At least 1.3 million southerners had signed up at the end of the first week of registration on Monday, the commission said.
The referendum commission has estimated that around 5.5 million southerners may be eligible to vote, including 500,000 in the north and half a million abroad.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens, editing by Tim Pearce