Bashir ready to free south Sudan of debt: Carter
JUBA, Sudan — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is ready for the north to take on all of the country’s 38-billion-dollar debt, freeing the war-ravaged south of any liabilities if it votes for independence, ex-US president Jimmy Carter said on Monday.
“I spoke with President al-Bashir. He said the entire debt should be assigned to north Sudan and not to the southern part,” Carter told CNN in an interview.
“So, in a way, southern Sudan is starting with a clean sheet on debt. They’ll have to make some arrangement for other sources of income, of course,” he added.
Carter met the Sudanese president in Khartoum on Saturday before flying down to the southern regional capital Juba for the first day of the week-long referendum on independence for the south.
With former UN chief Kofi Annan, he is chairing a delegation of poll observers from his Carter Centre foundation.
The ravages of the 1983-2005 civil war have left south Sudan one of the poorest regions of the world and heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Sudan is struggling to cope with what the World Bank last month described as “the enormous challenge of its debt problem.”
Its foreign debt amounted to 37.8 billion dollars in 2010, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, mostly in arrears.
Khartoum’s accumulated debt and international isolation have choked its sources of external financing, with the United States in November extending economic sanctions first imposed in 1997 for at least another year.
A possible drop in its share of future oil revenues if the resource-rich south secedes in July may compound Khartoum’s economic woes.
Ali Mahmoud, the country’s finance minister, complained in October that “unfair political pressures” were preventing the government from accessing much-needed help.
“Due to debt arrears, Sudan has been deprived from any concessional financing from the international organizations. This financing is considered to be vital to prop up its development and poverty reduction efforts,” he said.
But Washington has offered the Khartoum government a package of “incentives” if the vote on southern independence passes off smoothly and it resolves outstanding post-referendum issues with the south.
In a message to Sudan’s leaders on Sunday, US President Barack Obama repeated his offer to normalise relations with Khartoum, including the possible lifting of sanctions, “if you fulfill your obligations and choose peace.”
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