September 24, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – A high profile meeting on Sudan sponsored by the United Nations today stressed the need to hold the January 2011 referendum in the South as planned and in a fair and transparent manner.
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) greets semi-autonomous South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir (L) and Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha (R), before a high level meeting on Sudan, at United Nations headquarters, in New York, September 24, 2010 (Reuters)
The two Vice presidents of Sudan Salva Kiir and Ali Osman Taha attended the conference along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, U.S. president Barack Obama and leaders from Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda as well as officials from UK, France, China and Germany.
Obama’s participation sought to assure skeptical Sudan advocacy groups at home and countries abroad that the U.S. at its highest levels is engaged in efforts to maintain peace and stability in Africa’s largest country.
“[S]ince I took office, my administration has worked for peace in Sudan. In my meetings with world leaders, I’ve urged my counterparts to fully support and contribute to the international effort that is required. [U.S.] Ambassador [to the UN] Susan Rice has worked tirelessly to build a strong and active coalition committed to moving forward. My special envoy, General Gration, has worked directly with the parties in his 20 visits to the region,” Obama said.
“At this moment, the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance. What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether people who have endured too much war, move towards peace or slip backwards to bloodshed. And what happens in Sudan matters to all of sub-Saharan Africa, and it matters to the world,” he added.
Obama stressed that the U.S. brokered 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan must be “full implemented” and particularly the provisions related to the referendum which he said “must take place, peacefully and on time”.
The referendum process is well behind schedule as a result of persistent political wrangling between the National Congress Party (NCP) in the North and the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the South.
The voter registration process of Southerners is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-October. However, the lengthy process can only be concluded after the voters’ lists are made public and people are given an opportunity to challenge its authenticity. An appeals authority then makes a decision on any challenges presented before it.
Furthermore, there has yet to be an agreement on thorny post-referendum issues such as oil revenue sharing, national debt, border demarcation and citizenship.
A separate referendum in the oil rich region of Abyei over whether it should join the North and South is all but certain to be delayed as a commission has yet to be established.
The tight schedule raised fears among international diplomats that the referendum will have to be postponed to the dismay of Southerners who may decide to declare unilateral independence and prompt the North to declare war in order to prevent a forced secession.
The New York Times (NYT) reported that the Sudanese had sought a closed meeting, but ultimately it was open leaving Taha, and Kiir to sketch their differences in diplomatic terms.
Taha assured the gathering that the referendum would be held on time, but he criticized the international community for supporting peace on one hand while continuing the “demonization” of the north on the other.
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of Sudan’s president, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, on war crimes charges, economic sanctions, the lack of debt relief and Sudan’s presence on the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism were all intended to weaken the country, he said.
However, Obama hinted that Bashir who stand accused of genocide in Darfur must eventually face justice.
“There can be no lasting peace in Darfur—and no normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States—without accountability for crimes that have been committed,” he said.
“There can be no lasting peace in Darfur—and no normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States—without accountability for crimes that have been committed….genocide is not acceptable,” Obama said.
Kiir on the other hand said that the Jan. 9 referendum date was sacred and that any technical delays had to be overcome. “Any delays risk the return to instability and violence,” he said.
“Yes, unity has been given a priority” since the 2005 peace deal, he said, though it was no longer “an attractive option” for the people of southern Sudan.
The UN chief laid out what’s expected out of Sudan in the coming few months.
“Sudanese, North and South, must negotiate agreements that reflect the reality of a shared history and shared resources – agreements on border management, citizenship, migration, security, debts and assets. These issues do not all need to be resolved ahead of the referenda, but it is crucial that a mutually beneficial framework for managing North-South relations is put in place quickly,” Ban said.
“We expect the referenda to be peaceful, carried out in an environment free of intimidation or other infringements of rights,” he added.
Obama and other leaders at the conference such as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reiterated the message that the leaders of Sudan are ultimately the ones who need to figure a way to resolve their problems.
“But no one can impose progress and peace on another nation. Ultimately, only Sudanese leaders can ensure that the referenda go forward and that Sudan finds peace…. two paths lay ahead: one path taken by those who flout their responsibilities and for whom there must be consequences — more pressure and deeper isolation.
The communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting said that the participants “voiced strong support to both CPA parties and confirmed their commitment to respect the outcome of credible referenda and to assist the Sudanese achieve sustainable peace throughout Sudan in the post-referenda period”.
“They noted the delays in the preparations for the referenda and called for the urgent establishment of the Abyei Referendum Commission and for the acceleration of the work of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission,” it added.
The Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki announced that a special summit for the countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will be held in his country to assess progress in resolving the key issues holding up the referendum.
In Khartoum, the Sudanese information minister Kamal Obeid warned that Southerners in the North will not enjoy citizenship rights in the events of secession but will be considered subjects of another state.