KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudan's president has vowed to more deeply entrench strict Islamic sharia law in the northern half of his country if the predominantly animist and Christian south votes to secede in a Jan. 9 referendum.
President Omar al-Bashir's comments Sunday appeared to reflect his anger at the strong likelihood that the south will vote overwhelmingly for independence from the mainly Arab and Muslim north in the long-awaited referendum.
The vote is a key provision agreed on in the 2005 peace accord that officially ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
On Tuesday, Bashir will meet in the capital of Khartoum with the leaders of Sudan's two most powerful neighbors - Egypt and Libya - to discuss his country's future ahead of the referendum. Bashir is wanted on an international indictment for war crimes in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
With only three weeks left till the vote, he appears resigned to the secession of the south - and prepared to do away with key provisions of the 2005 accord that recognizes Sudan's ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity.
The secession of the south, he said, would be like "losing a part of the homeland, but it will not be the end of the world."
"If the south breaks away, God forbid, the constitution will be amended to have sharia as the main source of legislation, Islam the official religion of the state, and Arabic the state's main language," said Bashir, who came to office in a 1989 military coup backed by Islamists.
A full-fledged institution of sharia law in northern Sudan could create new friction between south and north, because hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim southerners live in the north, and many are expected to stay there even if the south breaks away. Non-Muslims are now exempt from harsh sharia punishments.
Bashir's comments could be an attempt to cover up his failure to keep Sudan united and intact, analyst Fayez Selik said. He "is saying to the north: We lost the south but we won sharia," said Selik, editor of the pro-south daily Ajras al-Hurriya, or Freedom Bells.
Sharia law was introduced in Sudan in 1983 and it fueled a southern insurgency in its early years. Authorities soon relaxed its implementation, but they began to strictly apply it again when Bashir came to power. It was relaxed again after the 2005 accord.