U.S. officials say there is no more time to waste for finalizing preparations for two votes in Sudan on possible southern separation. They are urging progress during a new round of talks due next week in Ethiopia.
In Washington Friday, U.S. envoy to Sudan Scott Gration expressed concern for a new round of talks starting October 27 in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, between officials from north and south Sudan.
"With time running out, the parties must make a strategic commitment to work together to avoid war to achieve a lasting peace," he said.
Gration noted there were less than 80 days before the planned January 9 referendum on independence in south Sudan as well as before the separate vote scheduled on the same day in the oil-rich Abyei district. Voters there are due to decide whether they are part of the north or south.
Issues which have yet to be resolved include exact border demarcations and who gets to vote in the Abyei referendum, with nomads from the north who use land in the disputed region, a particular point of contention. Gration urged northern and southern officials to reach a consensus.
"The parties must be prepared to come to Addis with an attitude of compromise to reach a final agreement on these remaining tough issues," he said.
U.S. officials said President Barack Obama is getting daily briefings on the situation.
In a follow-up panel discussion Friday in Washington, a researcher from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Jehanne Henry, expressed concern over the rights of minority communities in both the north and south.
"What we would urge is that both governments be very, very, clear that citizens are not going to be stripped of their rights and they will not be subjected to intimidation and attacked in any form of physical violence," Henry said.
Next year's voting would mark the culmination of a 2005 peace deal, aimed at ending more than two decades of conflict between Sudan's government forces and southern rebels, which led to the deaths of nearly two million people.