KHARTOUM, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Sudan's two main parties on Wednesday said parliament will review a disputed law on a referendum on independence for the south, hoping to avert political crisis after harsh criticism from Washington.
Parliament passed the law even though the main southern party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), walked out of the assembly objecting to an amendment allowing southerners living in the north to vote in the January 2011 referendum.
SPLM officials insist the referendum must go ahead and analysts agree any scent of deceit hanging over the process could reignite the north-south civil war that raged for two decades and killed some 2 million people. A return to hostilities could destabilise much of east Africa.
The United States criticised the National Congress Party (NCP), which dominates the north, for passing the referendum bill on Tuesday, accusing it of undermining the 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war and brought the two rival parties into a fragile coalition.
"We agreed in principle to return the law to parliament," said senior NCP official Ibrahim Ghandour, adding the two parties were still in talks on "editing" the law.
SPLM Deputy Chairman Riek Machar told reporters the parties had agreed to remove the amendment and return the bill to parliament on Monday. The speaker of the house had not yet signed the law, he said, so parliament could still legally change the text.
The southern rebel SPLM took up arms over ideological, ethnic and religious differences with the mainly Muslim north and the conflict was fuelled by the discovery of oil fields, mostly in the south.
But delays in implementing the 2005 peace deal have fomented distrust between the former foes and analysts warn Sudan could slide back into conflict and chaos.
The United States this year outlined a policy of broad engagement with Sudan, offering incentives for progress towards peace but warning of harsh punishments for stalling.
Critics say the new policy has produced few gains with the NCP this month pushing through a law giving the intelligence services more powers, despite fierce opposition from the SPLM and other political parties.
Opposition parties also accused the NCP of vote-buying and intimidation as Sudanese registered for April 2010 multi-party elections, the first in 24 years. The NCP denies fraud.
Francois Grignon, Africa director at the International Crisis Group think-tank, said this month in a web log that secession by the south was "almost certain."
"Sudan is sliding towards violent break-up," he warned. (Writing by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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