UNSC calls for credible referenda in Sudan

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pretoria - The UN Security Council (UNSC) has urged Sudanese parties to take urgent action to ensure the holding of peaceful and credible referenda in that country in January.

The Council meeting of Foreign Ministers on Sudan, held on Tuesday, called on 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) parties, to ensure peaceful, credible, timely and free referenda that reflect the will of the people of south Sudan and Abyei.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered the Sudanese government a dramatically different relationship with the US if the referendum is successfully conducted and its outcome respected.

"If the government of Sudan fulfils the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, if it resolves the future of Abyei, if it holds southern Sudan's referendum on 9 January and then recognises the will of the Sudanese people in the south, then the US is prepared to begin the process of withdrawing Sudan from our list of state sponsors of terrorism," Clinton said.

Clinton's comments come in the midst of a massive voter registration effort for a January referendum that would allow the east African nation's autonomous southern region separated from the north.

The referendum is considered a possible make-or-break event in the 2005 peace agreement, which ended the two-decade conflict that lead to the deaths of about two million people in Sudan.

The agreement also calls for a separate referendum for residents of Abyei, a border area that has oil reserves, to decide if they want to join the north or south. The southern region holds a majority of the nation's oil.

However, leaders of northern and southern Sudan have been deadlocked on the Abyei referendum over certain issues. These include distribution of oil revenue, demarcation of borders, security and citizenship rights.

African Union envoy Thabo Mbeki said President Omar al-Bashir and Southern Sudan's President Salva Kiir will meet next week to try to resolve these differences.

Mbeki was confident that the leaders can resolve differences ahead of the referendum.

"We are convinced that everybody concerned is determined to ensure that the entire referendum process proceeds in a manner which will contribute to the credibility of the referendum," said Mbeki, former South African President.

Although the council admitted that there was still a huge amount of work to be done before the referendum; they were of the view that the process must be kept peaceful and stabile -not only for Sudan but also for its neighbours.

Regardless of the outcome, the will of the people must be respected by all parties in Sudan and around the world, Clinton said.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the 22 000-member UN peacekeeping force in the south may be beefed up ahead of the vote but stressed that would not be sufficient to prevent a new war.

"Only a demonstrated commitment by the parties to refrain from inflammatory statements, uphold the (peace agreement) cease-fire mechanisms and reassure the population of their willingness to work together will succeed in maintaining the peace," Ban warned.