UN Security Council heads to Sudan to support independence referendum

Envoys from all 15 members of the UN Security Council head to Sudan on Wednesday to show support for a scheduled Jan. 9, 2011 referendum on secession for Southern Sudan amid fears of a unilateral declaration of independence sparking new violence.


AFP - Envoys from the main world powers go to Sudan on Wednesday aiming to maintain international pressure to hold a referendum that could lead to the breakup of the country, diplomats said.

Envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus envoys from the 10 other nations on the 15-member Council, will make up the delegation, said UN Security Council chairman Ruhakana Rugunda, from Uganda. Uganda currently holds the rotating presidency of the council.

But the envoys will not meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is under an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of genocide in his country.

"The council has not requested a meeting with the president, and the president has not offered to meet the council. The council will be meeting other senior officials," Rugunda said.

The aim of the trip was "to support efforts for the promotion of peace on the areas that we will visit," he added.

Diplomats said Bashir would not be in the country during the visit.

"We welcome the visit of the Council, which will allow us to continue the dialogue so that members can see the facts on which the government's position is based," Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha said.

The Security Council ambassadors will gather in Kampala and then go to South Sudan, which is set to hold a breakaway referendum, the conflict-stricken Darfur region and the capital Khartoum over the four day trip, diplomats said.

Referendums are to be held in South Sudan and the small region of Abyei on January 9 on whether they want to remain part of Sudan.

Diplomats and observers expect both to vote to break away, but preparations for the votes are seriously behind schedule, heightening fears of a unilateral declaration of independence and possible conflict if there is a delay.

"We want to encourage the north and south to do everything they can to hold the referenda on time and to make sure that if the south decides to go it alone then the transition is peaceful," a diplomat from one council nation told AFP.

The diplomat said the envoys -- who include US ambassador Susan Rice and British ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant -- would go to Darfur because of new concerns about the conflict there that the United Nations says has left at least 300,000 dead in the past eight years.

Darfur rebel groups have accused the military of staging new attacks in the region. UN agencies have not confirmed the claims however.

Qatar has led floundering efforts to bring the Sudanese government and rebel groups to peace talks.

The referenda are to be held as part of a 2005 peace agreement between the Khartoum government and rebels in South Sudan, to end two decades of civil war which left about two million dead.

The international community, led by US President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, has stepped up pressure on Sudan over the referenda in recent weeks.

Obama told a special UN meeting on Sudan on September 24 that "the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance." He said the votes must be peaceful, on time and credible.

"What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether people who have endured too much war, move towards peace or slip backwards to bloodshed."

He and the UN secretary general said the events in coming months will be crucial for Sudan and the whole region.

They told the Sudanese government and its rival in southern Sudan that they must accelerate preparations for the January 9 votes. "We expect both parties to accept the results, and to plan for the consequences," Obama said.

Bashir and his government have repeatedly said they will accept the result of the referendum.

But voter registration and other basic vote logistics have yet to start.

Officials must be trained, tonnes of material must be printed and delivered across a vast region of jungle, swamp and grasslands the size of Spain and Portugal, but with only 60 kilometers (40 miles) of tarred roads.


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