US Strengthens Diplomatic Efforts Ahead of Sudan’s Southern Referendum
September 27, 2010
By: Randi Zung | Printer Friendly
On September 12, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration’s special envoy to Sudan, Major General Scott Gration, met with Sudanese officials in the northern capital of Khartoum and the southern regional capital of Juba in order to intensify diplomatic efforts ahead of the country’s January 9, 2011 referendum on independence for southern Sudan. During the meetings, General Gration proposed a series of incentives and punishments to persuade and pressure Sudan to maintain stability should the referendum pass – resulting in the breakaway of the southern region of the country.
The referendum is part of the country’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a 21-year civil war between the north and the south that resulted in the deaths of approximately 2 million people. Many believe that the approval of the referendum could reignite a civil war in the country. In the coming months, the north’s National Congress Party (NCP) and the south’s Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) must address several contentious topics – including the potential division of Sudan’s natural resources and massive national debt. The Washington Post reported that if the referendum is approved, “The north stands to lose one-third of its land and 80 percent of its oil reserves.”
In his meetings, General Gration stated that if the vote is credible and the terms of the referendum are successfully implemented, the United States will: work to help enhance Sudanese food security, take steps to allow additional trade and investment in certain non-oil sectors, and support the exchange of ambassadors. Additionally, General Gration stated that upon resolution of the conflict in Darfur, the United States would take steps to normalize relations with Sudan – including lifting economic sanctions and offering debt relief. The Obama administration warned that it would intensify and add additional sanctions if the situation in Sudan deteriorated following the poll.
At the annual United Nations (UN) convening, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon organized a high-level meeting to discuss Sudan’s upcoming referendum. UN News Centre reported that a communiqué released after the meeting stated that several delegations expressed they would commit “to [respecting] the outcome of credible referenda and to assist the Sudanese achieve sustainable peace throughout Sudan in the post-referenda period.” During the meeting the Secretary-General stated, “We expect the referenda to be peaceful, carried out in an environment free of intimidation or other infringements of rights. We expect both parties to accept the results, and to plan for the consequences.” Ban also stressed the importance of continuing to focus international attention on the Darfur region of Sudan, which is currently suffering from the lasting effects of a devastating civil war.
In a separate meeting at the United Nations, US President Barack Obama urged the full implementation of Sudan’s CPA and asserted the need for the referendum to take place “peacefully and on time.” Asserting that the Sudanese were the only people who could ensure that the referendum would go smoothly, President Obama stated, “Ultimately, only Sudanese leaders can ensure that the referenda go forward and that Sudan finds peace. There’s a great deal of work that must be done, and it must be done quickly.” Noting the importance of continued international support even after the vote, President Obama stated, “We must promote dignity and human rights throughout all of Sudan, and this includes extending the mandate of the U.N. independent expert of Sudan -- because we cannot turn a blind eye to the violation of basic human rights. And as I said, regardless of the outcome of the referenda, we must support development in southern Sudan, because people there deserve the same dignity and opportunities as anyone else.”
Despite the Obama administration’s recent announcements, Voice of America reported that a high-ranking member of the NCP has stated that they do not need assistance from the United States. Rabie Abdelati Obeid of the NCP said that because the referendum is mandated in the CPA, that outside intervention is unnecessary. Obeid stated, “Whenever there is any influence from any of the internal or external factors to the procedure of the referendum, the referendum will also be false and the result will not be recognized.”
On September 27, Reuters reported that the NCP threatened to reject the results of the January 2011 referendum. According to an unnamed NCP minister, the NCP is accusing the southern region’s army of straying across CPA negotiated land boundaries. Additionally, the NCP has accused the SPLM of cracking down on citizens who support Sudanese unity – individuals who would want to vote ‘no’ on southern independence. Despite the NCP’s accusations, political analysts maintain that most individuals in the south want southern independence.
To read President Obama’s full remarks from the United Nations’ Ministerial Meeting on Sudan, please see:
For previous news on Sudan, please see:
US Department of State - Intensifying Diplomacy in the Lead up to the Referenda in Sudan
The Washington Post - U.S. begins diplomatic effort to rescue peace plan in Sudan
CIA World Factbook: Sudan