- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — Saying the “fate of millions of people hangs in the balance,” President Obama on Friday injected a new sense of urgency into the conflict in Sudan, calling on its leaders to proceed on time with a January referendum on whether to split up the troubled African nation.

Mr. Obama, speaking at an emergency U.N. meeting on Sudan, said the issue “demands the attention of the world.”

“At this moment, the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance,” Mr. Obama said. “What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide if a people who endured too much war move towards peace or slip backwards into bloodshed. And what happens in Sudan matters to all of sub-Saharan Africa, and it matters to the world.”

Sudan, Africa’s largest country, officially ended its two-decades-long civil war in 2005. A referendum that could break the country in two by granting independence to the south is slated for Jan. 9, but world diplomats fear the government in Khartoum is behind schedule.

“We are here because the leaders of Sudan face a choice,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not the choice of how to move forward to give the people of Sudan the peace they deserve. We already know what needs to be done. The choice is for Sudanese leaders — whether they will have the courage to walk the path. And the decision cannot be delayed any longer.”

An estimated 2 million people have been killed in the bloody and gruesome conflict. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide. He did not attend the U.N. meeting.

Mr. Obama stressed that his administration has done what it can to help achieve peace but said it is up to the country’s government to ensure it actually happens by holding the elections on time.

“No one can impose progress and peace on another nation,” he said. “Ultimately, only Sudanese leaders can ensure that the referenda go forward and that Sudan finds peace. There’s a great deal of work that needs to be done, and it must be done quickly.”

He vowed that the U.S. will “not abandon the people of Darfur,” and said if the nation fulfills its international obligations, it could benefit from trade and normal U.S. diplomatic relations.

“Genocide is not acceptable. In the 21st century, rules and universal values must be upheld,” he said.