THE result of the election held recently in Sudan surprised no one. President Omar al-Bashir won 68 per cent of the votes despite having been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur genocide over the past four years.

There have been few criticisms by Western powers of his re-election because they are more concerned that the planned referendum due in January in Southern Sudan should go ahead without delay or interference. This referendum, called for by the 2005 Peace Agreement which ended a long civil war, will ask the people of the South whether they want independence from al-Bashir's governing North. The answer is expected to be a resounding Yes even though at the moment the South has minimal governmental infrastructure.

But it does have oil and the open question is whether President al-Bashir will be willing to sit back and allow this economic asset to be taken over by an independent southern Sudan.

The western powers which negotiated the 2005 Peace Agreement -- Britain, Norway and the United States -- are involved also in overseeing the South's referendum eight months from now. Just as important as the vote itself will be preparations for a governmental structure in the South to take over as quickly as possible if the referendum result is positive.