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Sudan 'Fully Committed' to On-Time Referendum

UN delegates attend a meeting with Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmad Karti in Khartoum, 09 Oct 2010 on the last day of an official visit to Sudan by UN Security Council ambassadors

Sudan's foreign minister told the U.N. Security Council Saturday his government is "fully committed" to holding a referendum that could result in the south of the country seceding from the north. The foreign minister warned against interference in the January 9 vote.

Foreign Minister Ali al-Kirti said in opening remarks at a meeting with the 15-member U.N. Security Council that his government's position is "unchanged" and it wants the referendum to go forward on time.

He says Khartoum will abide by the results of the vote, but it must be arranged and conducted properly. He says their only condition is that there is no interference in the vote.

In addition to the referendum on the north-south relationship, the oil-rich Abyei region is to hold one on the same day on whether they will join the north or south. On this, al-Kirti said sensitive issues remain to be agreed, including border demarcation and citizenship.

On the conflict in the Darfur region, the foreign minister said Doha is the main negotiating forum and asked the council to join them in pressuring rebel groups to come to the table without preconditions.

He said Khartoum is planning a conference in Kuwait next September on development in Darfur and asked the council and others in the international community to participate.

The foreign minister also brought up the international sanctions that Sudan has been under for several years, saying they are "unjustified" and harm the Sudanese people and efforts toward security and stability.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant spoke for the council. He repeated the message the diplomats have carried on this trip, which is that the international community wants to see the referenda happen on time, in a credible manner and with the outcome respected by all parties.

"We are visiting Sudan because we have got a strong interest in peace, stability and prosperity of Sudan and its people. And we are deeply concerned by the continued instability as evidenced by the two of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world - UNMIS and UNAMID," he said.

The ambassador also expressed the council's concern about the conflict in Darfur and the serious humanitarian situation there, and he urged all rebel groups to join the Doha peace process without preconditions and further delays.

Meanwhile, as the Security Council met with the foreign minister about 3,000 pro-unity demonstrators rallied near the presidential palace. Police with batons broke up another counter-demonstration by south Sudanese protesters calling for separation.

The council wraps up its four-day visit to the country Saturday. While in Sudan, the council met with south Sudanese leaders, including President Salva Kiir, in Juba, and stopped in Darfur to see the situation on the ground, before coming to Khartoum.