- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2010

The U.S. has poured millions of dollars into a multinational effort to build a police force in south Sudan that it hopes will ensure a peaceful referendum in January in which southerners are expected to vote for seceding from the north.

However, the young and inexperienced force lacks the ability to prevent Sudan from sliding back into a civil war that ripped it asunder for more than two decades.

Growing concern about renewed civil strife was underscored over the weekend when a crowd of several thousand northerners demonstrating for unity set upon a few dozen southerners in Khartoum. Police reportedly also attacked the fleeing southerners.

The referendum to decide the south’s fate is scheduled for Jan. 9. In a separate vote, the residents of the oil-rich region of Abyei will decide whether they want to be a part of the south if it secedes.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss U.S. efforts in Sudan, said sticking with the Jan. 9 date ultimately will be a “political decision” and not one based on ground realities.

Nearly a dozen U.S. police officers are assisting the U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to train the Southern Sudan Police Service, whose primary task is to ensure security at the time of the referendum.

The U.S. invested $15.4 million in fiscal 2009 and $16 million in fiscal 2010 in the program. President Obama has requested an increase in this contribution for fiscal 2011.

U.S. assistance has been provided through the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which has given the southerners trucks, batons, body armor, shields and nonlethal equipment to manage crowds.

The equipment will help them should they get engaged in a “civil pushing and shoving match,” the senior U.S. official said.

The INL has given an additional $1.5 million to the U.N. Development Program to develop the John Garang Unified Training Center at Rajaf.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed even greater U.S. engagement.

In recent legislation, Mr. Kerry called for U.S. aid for security forces and civil aviation in southern Sudan.

This aid is conditioned on good governance and accountability by the Sudanese.

About 10 U.S. contractors separately are teaching police cadets how to drive trucks, do basic police work, patrol and improve prison conditions.

“Hopefully, over time, we will do more than just that,” the senior U.S. official said.

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