|Omar al-Bashir said 'ties between the north and the south are very huge' [Al Jazeera]
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has made a final pitch for the unity of the country but said that he will respect the outcome of the referendum being held in the south for secession.
On his visit to the southern capital of Juba on Tuesday, Bashir said he came with a message of peace.
He was received at the airport by Salva Kiir, the president of the semi-autonomous south.
"While I remain committed to unity as an option, I will be the first to recognise your independence if you opt for it," said Bashir in his address to parliamentarians of the south.
The southerners outside the airport waiting for Bashir's arrival had already made up their minds and were empathetic about separation.
Crowds waving placards and flags with the separation message gathered at the airport hours before his arrival and were very vocal about it when Bashir's motorcade of vehicles with blacked out windows speeded into town.
In his speech to the parliamentarians, Bashir said he was keen to maximise north-south relations in the event of a split through "our common interests".
The president alluded to European unity despite years of war that affected millions.
"We want to show the world that we are civilised people and are ready to disappoint those who are speculating about division and conflict," Bashir said.
Earlier in the day, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, southern Sudan's minister of information, said Bashir was visiting Juba as the president of the republic to oversee the arrangements for the referendum.
"He is here to listen to the people," said Benjamin, who said Bashir would be meeting members of civil society during his visit.
While no official confirmation was made, Bashir is also expected to hold talks with Kiir over the remaining outstanding issues between the north and the south as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended Africa's longest civil war.
Signed in 2005 between the Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the CPA was a success "despite all its complications and the fact that is has not achieved all its goals," Bashir said.
Bashir's National Congress Party in the north, and SPLM in the south, have been discussing without success the key sticking points of future citizenship arrangements, the sharing out of natural resources - particularly oil - security and compliance with international accords, notably on water allocation from the Nile.
"Ties between the north and the south are very huge," Bashir said. "We spoke to our brothers on how to keep those ties, even if we have two states."
They have also yet to find common ground on the disputed district of Abyei which had supposed to be holding a simultaneous vote on its own future that has been delayed by disagreements over who should be eligible to vote and demarcating the region's borders.
Benjamin told Al Jazeera that despite Bashir's stated hope for a unity vote in the referendum, it was best for both sides to seek a peaceful divorce and focus on maintaining brotherly ties in post-secession Sudan.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies