News / Africa

Sudan Envoys To Cooperate As Independence Referendum Nears

The various special envoys and mediators on Sudan have agreed to coordinate efforts to shore up the 2005 north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement ahead of next January's independence referendum.

Eight months before the vote that could split Sudan into two countries, African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping called on all concerned parties to unite in support of the country's democratic transformation.

He said, "The international community must accelerate the pace of implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and with it, the process of democratization".

Ping was speaking to a gathering of all the major players in the international diplomatic effort to help Sudan through what are bound to be difficult times ahead.

Among those attending were senior officials of the United Nations, representatives of all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and leaders of the African Union High Level Panel on Sudan, former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya.

Joining them were a number of special envoys to Sudan, including U.S. President Barack Obama's representative Scott Gration.

The U.S. envoy declined an interview request. But a State Department spokesman in Washington said Gration would tell the Sudanese there is 'no time to waste' in solving a number of complex and important issues before next January's referendum.

Spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters, 'We have to be prepared for a vote that will lead to a new country'. He noted that if the south votes to secede, it would be only six months until a new country would emerge.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the African Union would lead the coordinated diplomatic initiative for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement before the referendum. "There was expectation on the part of the international community that someone will take the lead, and quite naturally it is the African Union taking the lead. But you have all the organizations of which Sudan is a member, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, IGAD, they are here, and you have all the special envoys, all the neighboring countries," he said.

Diplomats describe the agreement on cooperation as a 'breakthrough' that could put an end to duplication of effort and contradictory messages that have at times hampered attempts to implement the CPA. One official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the shortage of time had made coordination a necessity.

Sudanese representatives were not invited to the three day strategy session that ended Saturday. But they will be attending a three-party meeting with African Union and United Nations officials Monday to establish a new mechanism that will prepare the political ground for the January referendum.

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