The International Crisis Group?s Special Advisor on the African Union and Sudan told VOA he welcomes U.S. Senator John Kerry?s announcement Sunday that the Sudan government has assured him it will respect the results of January's independence referendum for southern Sudan.

US Senator John Kerry
US Senator John Kerry

Democrat John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrapped up a three day visit to Sudan Sunday.

He said the Khartoum government has put its commitment to hold the January 9 referendum in writing.

International Crisis Group?s Fouad Hikmat said Khartoum?s assurance to Senator Kerry is a positive development

?I think it is very good news, and this maybe a reiteration from President Bashir what he just recently said to the Sudanese people through his speech to the national assembly that he is going to work very hard to make sure that the referendum is going to be on time, and that the government is going to respect the results of the referendum provided that it is done in a transparent, free and accurate way,? he said.

However, Hikmat said despite Khartoum?s assurance to Senator Kerry there?s still the problem of Abyei and demarcation of the borders.

?The government is saying that in order to do the referendum there has to be due course in terms of implementing what is the law of the referendum, and at the same time make sure that the borders are demarcated, and the problem of Abyei is resolved. And it doesn?t mean that the assurance that is being given to John Kerry means that these issues are going to be resolved as soon as possible. But if it does then this is a very good step,? Hikmat said.

He said Abyei remains the wild card in the whole referendum discussion.

?It is a wild card in the sense that if the two parties (north and south) agree in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in the coming days to have like a sort of a breakthrough on Abyei without the acceptance of the Missirya or without the acceptance of the Ngog Dinka who are part of the nine chiefdoms which is the subject of the Abyei issue, that will be problematic because I don?t think it will be easy for the National Congress Party to push the Missirya to accept a deal that they don?t accept as a tribe,? Hikmat said.

Senator Kerry warned last week of tougher US sanctions against Sudan if the governments of north and south Sudan put obstacles in the way of the referendum.

Hikmat said Khartoum still values its relationship with Washington.

?I think the Sudanese government and particularly the north, they do think very carefully about their relationship with the United States. And they want that this (relationship) to be fixed; they want Sudan to be lifted from the sanctions list, from the terrorist list, and for America to help Sudan to have access to the IFI which is the International Financial Institution, and the issue of the debt to be relief,? Hikmat said.

He said Khartoum would also like Washington?s help in the International Criminal Court?s arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes allegedly committed in Sudan?s Western Darfur region.