Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday urged the leaders of northern and southern Sudan to make some "tough compromises" to settle their differences on the status of an oil-rich region and allow a referendum to go ahead as planned.
Mrs. Clinton said both sides must find a way forward that "both upholds the rights of the Ngok Dinka and the other residents of Abyei, as well as the nomadic peoples like the Misseriya, who regularly pass through the area."
"And they must do so promptly because preparations for the referendum on Abyei have fallen behind schedule and tensions will continue to rise," she told a U.N. Security Council ministerial meeting on Sudan in New York.
As spelled out in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the Sudanese government must hold a Jan. 9 referendum to decide whether southern Sudan will secede from the rest of the country and another to give the residents of Abyei a choice to be a part of the south if it breaks away.
The leaders of northern and southern Sudan have been deadlocked on the Abyei referendum over issues that include distribution of oil revenue, demarcation of borders, security and citizenship rights.
"The fate of 44 million Sudanese depends on their leaders' willingness to work together to resolve these issues," Mrs. Clinton said.
On Monday, voters from southern Sudan began registering to vote in the referendum. The south is widely expected to break from the rest of the country.
"Officials throughout Sudan have a particular responsibility ahead of the vote," Mrs. Clinton said. "They must avoid inflammatory rhetoric, quell rumors and dampen animosities. They must allow unfettered campaigning by all sides and ensure that voters can travel safely to their polling places."
She said the Obama administration believes promises made under the CPA must be kept and are critical to peace and stability, not only for Sudan but also for its neighbors.
"Regardless of the outcome, the will of the people must be respected by all parties in Sudan and around the world," Mrs. Clinton said.
She said there Is still a huge amount of work to be done for the referendum to be held on time.
According to the CPA, deadlines can be moved if both sides agree. But Mrs. Clinton said "unless the parties reach a mutual agreement that is acceptable to all the people of Abyei, the United States and the international community will continue to hold them to their commitment to an on-time referendum, as promised in the CPA."
She also expressed concern about the intensifying violence in Sudan's Darfur province.
The Obama administration has eased U.S. policies governing the sale of agricultural and irrigation equipment to Sudan, and has supported the creation of a group to examine ways to ease Sudan's national debt.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, carried a message from President Obama to Sudan's leaders earlier this month informing them that the U.S. would take Sudan off its list of state sponsors of terrorism if the Sudanese government allows both referenda to proceed as planned.
Mrs. Clinton said if the government in Khartoum commits to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur and takes other steps toward peace and accountability, the Obama administration is "prepared to offer Sudan a path to the ending of U.S. sanctions, working toward international debt relief, increasing trade and investment, and forging a mutually beneficial relationship."
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