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US Convenes Conference to Re-Invigorate Sudan Peace Process

The Obama administration convened a conference of more than 30 countries and international organizations Tuesday aimed at supporting implementation of Sudan's north-south peace process. U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration says it is time for the world community to "rekindle" the passion that produced the country's Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

The meeting at a Washington hotel reflected U.S. concern that momentum toward completing implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, may be lagging as key benchmarks in the peace accord negotiated in Kenya in 2005 draw near.

The agreement that ended a two-decade civil war, the longest in Africa, is due to reach a climax early next year with national elections in Sudan to be followed by a referendum in January of 2011 on the political future of Sudan's vast southern region.

In what amounted to a pep talk to the conference which included delegates of the Sudanese government and the former southern rebel movement, the SPLM, U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration said "critical provisions" of the CPA remain uncompleted with less than 19 months to go before the referendum.

He said it is time for the world community to rekindle the passion that characterized the CPA negotiating process in Naivasha, Kenya, and work urgently to set the foundation for a future of peace and security in Sudan.

Gration's message was echoed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who gave the keynote address as a stand-in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from surgery for a broken elbow. Steinberg said the stakes in Sudan's peace process are enormous.

"We're facing some very important milestones in the near future, which will determine the path of the future. And they will set the foundation, for better or worse, of the very future of Sudan and for the region as a whole. And therefore the stakes are enormous and the importance of our really focusing our efforts now in making sure that these processes as they go forward are fair, open, transparent and are consistent with the spirit that brought about the CPA in the first place," he said.

Steinberg said it was important also to remember the ongoing conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, where he said millions of innocent people have been forced from their homes as a result of genocide, and now face "appalling conditions."

The deputy secretary urged a "holistic approach" to Sudan's problems which recognizes that all the country's problems are interconnected and need to be worked on together.

Envoy Gration, in a telephone talk with State Department reporters, said Sudanese government and SPLM officials agreed, on the sidelines of the Washington meeting, to accept as "final and binding" an arbitration ruling due next month on the status of the oil-rich Abiyeh region.

The future of Abiyeh, and whether it might be part of a prospective new southern Sudanese state, has been a key problem issue in CPA implementation along with wealth and power-sharing, election rules, and the holding of a census.

Gration said he was not entirely sure the arbitration accord reached Tuesday would be accepted by parties on the ground and pledged a continued all-out effort, including travel to Sudan as necessary, to clear away remaining CPA obstacles.