4 January 2011 – Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir made a whirlwind visit to Juba today in what may mark his final trip to the southern capital as leader of a united Sudan.
Upon his arrival at Juba International Airport Tuesday morning, President Bashir was given a red carpet welcome by First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit and donned a traditional robe atop his business suit.
“I personally will be sad if Sudan splits,” said Mr. Bashir in a speech to senior officials of the Government of Southern Sudan at the start of his visit that came only five days before balloting begins in Southern Sudan for a long-awaited referendum on self-determination. “But at the same time I will be happy if we have peace in Sudan between the two sides.”
Mr. Bashir later held a closed-door meeting with Mr. Kiir, who also serves as president of the autonomous Government of Southern Sudan.
Outside the airport, hundreds of demonstrators waved Southern Sudanese flags and hoisted placards in favor of separation from the rest of the country.
President Bashir sounded a conciliatory note in brief remarks to the news media before his afternoon departure for Khartoum.
“I hope the voting will be peaceful and without harassment,” he said. “We thought and believe that unity is the best, (but) if southerners opt for secession we will accept it.”
President Bashir also promised to assist an independent state in the south if the referendum outcome backs separation.
“Southern Sudan as a new state definitely will be in need of support,” he said. “We in Khartoum are ready to give them technical, logistical (and) training support. We are ready to deliver.”