JUBA, Sudan – The African Union chief says the organization intends to be the first to recognize Southern Sudan as a new state should the result of its referendum be secession.
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika made the statement Wednesday after meeting Southern Sudan's leader, Salva Kiir. Mutharika currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the 53-member African Union.
Sudan will be on the agenda when the AU holds a regular African leaders meeting later this month.
Southern Sudan held a weeklong referendum that began Jan. 9. The referendum concludes a peace deal signed in January 2005 that ended a 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan.
Early results show strong support for secession. Final results are due in early February.