|Thousands of Sudanese have travelled to Juba in the lead-up to Sunday's secession vote [AFP]
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has said his government will respect and support south Sudan if it decides to secede in a referendum vote set for Sunday.
Speaking to officials in the southern capital, Juba on Tuesday, Bashir said that while the north favoured unity, it is the right of the southern Sudanese people to break away.
"Ties between the north and the south are very huge," he said. "We spoke to our brothers on how to keep those ties, even if we have two states".
Bashir described the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005 between the Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the southern rebel, as a success "despite all its complications and the fact that is has not achieved all its goals".
He said that he agreed to hold a referendum on succession because unity "could not be forced by power".
With polls indicating that southerners favour breaking away from the north, Tuesday's remarks could be Bashir's final speech to a south that remains undivided from the north.
Bashir, who has insisted on unity in the past, was expected to strike the conciliatory tone, said Al Jazeera's Lauren Taylor, reporting from Juba.
Both sides seemed eager to strike a friendly posture: The president has recently said he will be the first to congratulate the south on its independence if it secedes, and the southern government ordered ministers out onto the street to greet the president when he arrived in Juba.
The gestures from both sides indicates their "prickly interdependence," our correspondent said: Most of Sudan's oil is located in the south, but the means of production lie in the north.
Bashir's speech, Taylor said, was an attempt to "set the scene for an amicable divorce".
On Tuesday, Bashir also called on south Sudan not to assist fighters from the western Darfur region whose rebellion against Bashir's government set off the country's civil war in 2003.
Any cooperation with the former rebels would be a "violation," he said.