- 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.

“In terms of mechanics, there is no reason this police force cannot protect an election in which the parties are permitting it to go forward,” the official added.

But, the official said, the force is not an army and is incapable of dealing with heavily armed resistance.

The challenges of building a police force in southern Sudan are typical of those in any post-conflict region. The recruits are young, have no training and are not particularly well-educated.

In January, around 6,000 cadets enrolled in a nine-month training course. The academy has been hit by an attrition rate of 10 percent and about 5,400 cadets are expected to complete the course at the end of this month.

The referendum is the result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the 21-year civil war between the north and the south.

Salva Kiir, first vice president of Sudan and the president of southern Sudan, has expressed concern that southerners living in the north are in mortal danger as the date for the referendum draws close.

The U.N. has 10,000 peacekeepers in Sudan, besides a joint mission with the African Union in the western province of Darfur.

The Obama administration has been urging Sudan’s leaders to hold the referendum on time, however, Western officials say the vote could end up getting delayed.

Southern Sudanese officials say a delay will push the country to the brink of civil war.

U.S. and U.N. officials say the leaders of north Sudan are aware of the assistance to the southerners and have not complained.

“I would assume that the appropriate officials in the Interior Ministry and the Sudan Federal Police would have been notified of the referendum security training that is being offered currently by U.N. police advisers to Southern Sudanese law enforcement officers,” said Joseph Contreras, UNMIS spokesman.

The senior U.S. official said the security force does not pose a threat to the north and, moreover, is part of the CPA.

“I haven’t see any of [the north’s leaders] comment negatively or even come to us and ask hard questions. In the sense that they are silent about it, they seem to be unconcerned,” the U.S. official said.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted on war crimes and genocide charges by the U.N.’s International Criminal Court.

The Obama administration had been split on how to deal with Mr. al-Bashir.

Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, favored a softer approach, while U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, championed a tougher line that included more sanctions.

David Sullivan, policy manager with the Center for American Progress’ anti-genocide Enough Project, said the administration’s approach was put into focus after President Obama made a public push for a united Sudan policy at the U.N. last month.

“The high-level diplomacy from the United States suggests that Sudan is now a top priority” for the Obama administration, Mr. Sullivan said.

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