- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2010

Delaying the Jan. 9 referendum on whether to divide Sudan into two countries would create instability and renew violence in the African nation, Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir, president of southern Sudan, warned Monday.

Mr. Kiir accused Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s National Congress Party of “foot dragging” on the vote, which is widely expected to result in the secession of the south.

Residents of the contested oil-rich region Abyei also will decide whether they want to be part of the south if it secedes.

“Any delay or denial of the right of self-determination for the people of Abyei and southern Sudan risks a dangerous instability,” Mr. Kiir said, adding there is a “real risk of a return to violence on a massive scale” if the referendum does not proceed as scheduled.

“To us, the timing … is divine and sacred because it is the ultimate price of our sacrifices,” Mr. Kiir said at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The referendum is part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end a decades-long conflict between north and south Sudan.

The Obama administration has been urging all parties to conduct peaceful votes on time that reflect the will of the Sudanese people.

The U.S. special envoy, Scott Gration, told officials during a visit to Sudan this month that a range of consequences, including additional sanctions, would be deployed if the situation deteriorates or fails to make progress.

“We are committed to avoiding destabilization or delay, though ultimately the [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] parties must decide whether they will choose the path of peace or a return to conflict,” a senior U.S. administration official said on the condition of anonymity while citing the sensitive nature of the matter.

Jon Temin, a Sudan specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the referendum can be held on time, “but there is almost no room left for additional delays.”

“The organizers of the referendum need to show a real sense of urgency in their work, as the technical and logistical challenges to holding a referendum in such an underdeveloped region are significant,” Mr. Temin said.

He added that preparations for the Abyei referendum were well behind schedule.

Mr. Kiir said the U.S. and the rest of the international community must send a clear signal to all parties in Sudan that a delay or disruption of the referendums will not be tolerated.

He opposed linking the vote to the resolution of post-referendum issues that include the question of borders, citizenship and oil.

Mr. Kiir said U.S. assistance would be necessary to resolve the dispute over oil-rich Abyei.

“We do not want Abyei to become the potential trigger for the conflict to begin again between the south and the north,” Mr. Kiir said.

The Obama administration last week praised the Sudanese for taking critical initial steps toward preparing for the referendum. Those included the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission’s procurement of registration materials, the Sudan Legislative Assembly’s release of more than $80 million in referendum-related funding, and the swearing-in of the secretary general of the referendum commission.

But the senior U.S. official said there remains “an enormous amount to be done and work must be accelerated to make up for lost time.”

President Obama will attend a special meeting on Sudan called for by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Friday.

The session will focus on the full implementation of the CPA and improving the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Mr. Kiir and Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha will also participate in the meeting.

In a conference call with reporters Monday evening, senior Obama administration officials said the president had decided to participate in the event as it was taking place at a critical time in international efforts to ensure that the referenda take place on time and peacefully.

Samantha Power, senior director of multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, said Mr. Obama would deliver “quite substantial remarks on Sudan and on his vision for how to go forward there.”

“This is an event that will show that the world is united and that the parties need to move very, very briskly and responsibly to ensure that these votes take place on time,” Ms. Power said.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has advocated a tougher stand against Lt. Gen. Bashir, said the international community was reminding the parties in Sudan that it is, “first and foremost, their responsibility to implement the commitments they have made under the CPA and to their people.”

Holding out a carrot, Ms. Rice said there were opportunities for a better future and improvements in the relationship with the U.S. and the international community if the Sudanese “fully and faithfully meet their obligations under the CPA.”

“And we want to make the upside opportunity clear and well understood,” Ms. Rice added.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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