ALARMED OVER SUDAN
U.S. religious freedom advocates are urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to take urgent diplomatic action to prevent a new outbreak of violence in a turbulent oil-rich region of southern Sudan, which soon could be as well known to outsiders as Darfur.
"We … are increasingly alarmed by the lack of progress in the volatile Abyei area of Sudan," Leonard A. Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, wrote to Mrs. Clinton this week.
The Abyei region in south-central Sudan is threatened by disputes over oil revenues and by religious tension between Muslims on one side and Christians and followers of traditional African beliefs on the other. Abyei residents are scheduled to hold a referendum Jan. 9 on whether they want to join southern Sudan, which is expected to hold its own plebiscite on independence on the same day.
"Unfortunately, referendum preparations are severely behind schedule, leading to concerns of not only a delayed vote, but of renewed conflict," Mr. Leo said. "Increased senior-level U.S. attention is urgently needed."
He appealed to Mrs. Clinton to send a "senior diplomat" to Sudan to work with the coalition government of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army and the National Congress Party to resolve disagreements over who is eligible to vote in the referendum. The SPLA, which fought for independence for southern Sudan, and the Congress Party, the Islamic-based ruling movement in the north, formed a government of national unity under a peace agreement in 2005, which set terms for the Abyei referendum.
The SPLA argues that the Ngok Dinka people, expected to favor annexation with the South, should be the only Abyei residents eligible to vote. The Congress Party insists the nomadic Misseriya people, favored by the North, should also be registered for the referendum.
"The North is now trying to change the meaning of those terms [of the peace agreement], and it is incumbent upon the United Sates to reassert what the Abyei provisions of the [peace accords] require," Mr. Leo wrote.
He suggested that Mrs. Clinton send former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, as her special envoy to save the referendum. Mr. Danforth, also a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, earlier served as a negotiator on the Sudanese peace agreement.
Mr. Leo also warned Mrs. Clinton that Abyei residents are "increasingly suspicious" of peacekeeping troops made up "predominately of Muslims from Egypt."
"Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that these forces tend to ignore violence perpetrated by the Misseriya," he said.
MISSION IN PAKISTAN
The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan arrived in Islamabad this week and immediately started holding high-level talks to reassure the country of President Obama's support in the war on terrorism.
Ambassador Cameron Munter, a career diplomat, met with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on Tuesday, presented his credentials to President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday and called on Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh on Thursday.
"I am looking forward to working with the democratically elected government and with people around the country to strengthen our deep, long-term relationship based on honesty and mutual respect," Mr. Munter told Mr. Zardari.
Pakistan publicly objects to U.S. drone attacks on Taliban terrorist targets in northwest Pakistan, while some U.S. analysts suspect Pakistani intelligence agents are harboring the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
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