The clock is ticking for Sudan

The countdown to January has begun in Sudan. The referendum for independence will be held on January 9 for the South and the oil-rich region of Abeyi. Fearing a breakout of war despite assurances from Sudanese leaders, the United Nations has warned of a ‘wider conflict’. That is why, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon has announced that additional UN Peacekeeping troops will be sent ahead of the voting. The UN force, UNAMID, already has about 10,000 troops in the country. However, given the past violence and fears of a bloodier conflict, additional troops are being considered.

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Published: Thu 18 Nov 2010, 10:37 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:47 PM

While officials from both the North and the South, after meeting UN officials, recently renewed commitment to holding the referendum and respecting the outcome, speculation is rife on how the referendum is conducted. A delay or a refusal by Khartoum to acceptdecision by the South to opt to secede could trigger a far worse conflict than previously witnessed. Nearly 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003. The two decades of civil war finally gave way to uneasy peace when the peace accord put an end to the fighting in 2005. As per the accord’s terms, a referendum for independence was to be held in the stipulated time with the understanding that the outcome was to be respected and implemented in an amicable manner.

Speculation concerning a possible rejection of the voters’ decision if they opt to declare independence by the government in Khartoum is not unjustified. The South hosts the country’s oil reserves which principally means the majority of the national wealth. Talks are scheduled to decide on borders and sharing of oil revenues among other issues. Washington has offered Khartoum a dramatic improvement in relations but has also warned that in case of conflict and a reneging of commitment on the referendum, it will face “additional pressure and deeper isolation”. Growing international concern for Sudan is not only confined to the country but is also looking at a larger regional conflagration. There is no doubt that any future conflict in Sudan will inadvertently step up the security threat for neighbouring states. Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s meeting with Silva Kiir, the Southern leader, next week is likely to include talks on the contentious issues of borders and oil-revenue sharing. Even if the two sides reach an agreement, there is fear of foul play even in the pre-referendum stage. Voters’ registration will also begin next week. In addition, the volatility on both sides may provoke an earlier outbreak thus causing a delay which in itself will further worsen the situation. It is up to the Sudanese government and the rebel factions to keep people’s interest in perspective and refrain from taking up arms.

A political solution, however difficult it is for any one side, must be sought and implemented.

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