Leaders of north and south Sudan must be willing to compromise when they meet in Ethiopia next week to discuss a way past obstacles to holding a referendum in January that is likely to result in the secession of southern Sudan, U.S. officials said on Friday.
President Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, told reporters the talks in Addis Ababa may be one of the last chances to try and meet a Jan. 9 deadline to hold the referendum.
“There is just no more time to waste,” Mr. Gration said.
Officials and analysts are worried a delay in holding the referenda on Jan. 9 — one to decide whether the southerners want to secede and the other to determine whether the oil-rich region of Abyei wants to go with the south if it does break away — could cause Sudan to slip back into the civil war that engulfed it for more than two decades.
The south is widely expected to secede.
The referenda are part of the conditions spelled out in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
“With time running out, the parties must make a strategic commitment to work together to avoid war, to achieve a lasting peace,” Mr. Gration said, adding, “The parties must be prepared come to Addis with an attitude of compromise to reach a final agreement on these remaining tough issues. The entire world is watching and will make judgments based on how the parties approach these talks.”
Mr. Gration said the Obama administration is deeply committed to using all available tools to support the parties as they move toward the implementation of the CPA.
He urged both Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south to demonstrate good faith.
Mr. Gration said the Obama administration would be watching the Sudanese government to ensure that they transfer necessary funds to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, grant visas to international monitors and aid workers, and protect southerners living in the north.
Key issues, including the demarcation of borders, citizenship and division of oil revenues, remain to be agreed upon.
The Sudanese government also needs to register voters, employ poll workers and put domestic and international monitors in place.
The Abyei referendum has been a big challenge for both parties, which have been unable to agree on who should be able to vote in the process.
Mr. Gration said the Obama administration is committed to an “on-time referenda” in Abyei and southern Sudan. “It is really up to the parties to take the decisions and take the actions to make this a reality,” he said, adding that the parties will have to make some “tough decisions” on Abyei.
The Obama administration has invested a lot of energy in ensuring the CPA is implemented according to schedule.