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UN Calls for Urgent Action on Sudan Referendum

Southern Sudanese hold pro-independence banners as they march through the streets of the southern capital Juba (File)

Southern Sudanese hold pro-independence banners as they march through the streets of the southern capital Juba (File)

The U.N. Security Council, in a special meeting on Sudan, said urgent action is needed to assure a peaceful referendum in January on independence for southern Sudan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a successful vote can lead to a dramatic improvement in U.S. relations with Khartoum.

The presence of Clinton and other big-power diplomats at the meeting underscored world concern about lagging preparations for the voting, which would climax the north-south Sudan peace process begun with the Comprehensive Peace Accord or CPA in 2005.

Despite pledges of good faith by the Khartoum government and southern regional leaders, disputes continue over border demarcation, the status of the oil-rich Abyei region where a separate referendum is to be held, and funding for the joint election commission, the SSRC.

In a statement in his capacity as rotating president of the Security Council, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said urgent action is required by both sides to assure peaceful, timely and credible voting in the south and Abyei.

Abyei, south Sudan

Abyei, south Sudan

"The Security Council is concerned by the continued delays in releasing to the SSRC the full funding needed for preparations to continue to move forward," said Hague. "The Security Council calls on the parties and all member states to respect the outcome of credible referenda held in accordance with the CPA that reflect the will of the people of southern Sudan and Abyei."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, giving voice to worries that a failed vote might reignite north-south hostilities, said the United Nations hopes to boost the size of its 10,000 member peacekeeping force in Sudan to increase referendum and post-referendum security.

The United States helped mediate the 2005 peace accord that ended the decades-long north-south conflict that killed two million people and displaced millions more.

In her council statement, Secretary of State Clinton said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, on a mission to Sudan earlier this month, delivered a note from U.S. President Barack Obama offering Khartoum "dramatically improved ties" including normalized relations "if it chooses a path of peace."

"If it resolves the future of Abyei, if it holds southern Sudan's referendum on January 9, and then recognizes the will of the Sudanese peoples in the south, then the United States is prepared to begin the process of withdrawing Sudan from our list of state sponsors to terrorism which would be done in accordance with our laws on terrorism," Clinton said.

Sudan was put on the terrorism sponsors list for, among other things, hosting al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden in the 1990's. But U.S. officials have in recent years commended Sudanese anti-terrorism cooperation.

Clinton said the administration has eased sanctions to allow the sale of agricultural and irrigation equipment to Sudan and supported creation of a panel to explore ways to reduce Sudan's national debt.

She said if Sudan commits to a peaceful resolution of the Darfur conflict and takes other steps toward peace and accountability, the Obama administration is prepared to offer Sudan a "path to the ending" of all U.S. sanctions and forging "a mutually beneficial relationship."

Pagan Amum, the southern Sudanese government's minister for CPA implementation, told the council that "all signs" point to a vote for southern independence, but that whatever the outcome, north-south cooperation must continue.

"Even though the people of southern Sudan may choose to secede, we shall always remain neighbors. And we have no choice but to be good neighbors. We are economically independent. We therefore have to be partners, too," said Amum.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said the Khartoum government's decision to give the south the right to self-determination was "among the more daring decisions" ever taken by an African government.

He said Khartoum should be credited for its cooperation and not maligned. He urged the repeal of the 2005 Security Council resolution that opened the way to the Darfur war crimes indictment of President Omar al-Bashir.