The U.N. Secretary-General and members of the U.N. Security Council have expressed concern that resolution of the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region not be overlooked as international attention is focused on the upcoming North-South referendum.
In a special high-level session of the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the 9 Jan referendum on self-determination in South Sudan is a critical moment for the Sudanese people. As all eyes focus on whether the vote will go forward as scheduled, however, he warned that the ongoing conflict in Darfur must not be ignored.
"This brings me to the situation in Darfur, where there remains an urgent need to reach a comprehensive and inclusive settlement," said Mr. Ban. He said there has been some progress on outstanding issues at negotiations in Doha, and he asked the Security Council to call for all parties to join the talks.
Mr. Ban also warned that renewed clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and rebel groups are threatening the safety of innocent civilians and worsening an already dire humanitarian situation. "The disturbing implication of this fighting is that the parties have not yet decided to give up the military path."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who participated in the meeting, expressed the United States' ongoing concerns. "We remain deeply concerned about Darfur. Violence is intensifying; human rights violations continue; arms flow despite the embargo; journalists and activists are arrested, some merely for speaking to members of this Security Council; U.N. peacekeepers are kidnapped. This is all unacceptable."
Secretary Clinton urged the parties to live up to their obligations and said the United States is ready to work with the Security Council to support peace efforts in Darfur. She also said the Obama administration would work toward normalizing relations with Sudan - including putting it on the path to ending sanctions - if it commits to a peaceful resolution of Darfur, and takes other steps toward peace and accountability.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who chaired the meeting in his capacity as president of the council this month, also warned that attention must not shift away from Darfur because of the referendum.
"Much international attention is understandably focused on North-South issues in Sudan," said Hague. "But we must not lose sight of the situation in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have suffered and died. We must work intensively with all parties involved towards a peaceful and inclusive political settlement, addressing the violence and insecurity, including by combating impunity and supporting the peace talks in Doha."
In a statement agreed to by the Security Council, the 15 members called on all rebel groups to join the Darfur peace process without further delay or preconditions, and for all parties to immediately cease hostilities.
Sudan's Darfur region has been plagued by fighting since rebels took up arms in 2003, accusing the government of neglecting the area. The United Nations says more than 300,000 people have been killed in the violence and 2.7 million others displaced. Sudan's government puts the death toll much lower, at 10,000.