UN worried over Sudan violence

2010-10-05 11:45

Kampala - A top US envoy expressed concern Tuesday about renewed violence in Darfur as the UN Security Council powers headed to Sudan to maintain pressure over a referendum which could lead to the country's break-up.

Envoys from the 15 nations on the Security Council headed for Sudan to give the international message that a secession vote in South Sudan must take place on January 09 as scheduled. Fears have been expressed that a delay could spark a new civil war in Africa's biggest nation.

UN ambassadors or top representatives from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are on the mission to follow up on a call made by US President Barack Obama and other world leaders at a recent UN summit.

"With less than 100 days until the vote, our visit comes at a crucial time for Sudan," said US ambassador Susan Rice, who highlighted the new fears about events in Darfur, in western Sudan.

"We will push for peaceful, on-time referenda that reflect the will of the people of South Sudan and Abyei, and we will visit Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation and the plight of civilians in the wake of a disturbing uptick in violence," she said.

The envoys have avoided a meeting with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, wanted on war crimes charges by the UN's International Criminal Court over the Darfur conflict where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003.

Promotion of peace

Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda's UN envoy and president of the Security Council for October, said: "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."

The trip's aim 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 gather in Kampala on Tuesday and then go to South Sudan, which is set to hold a breakaway referendum, Darfur and Khartoum.

Referenda 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.

A diplomat said the main aim of the mission was to get the message across that "Sudan must do everything to make sure these referenda are held on time".

The diplomat said the envoys would go to Darfur because of new concerns about the conflict there.

Accelerate preparations

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

Qatar has led floundering efforts to bring Sudan's 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.

Obama told a special UN meeting on Sudan last month 24 that "the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance".

"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 UN chief Ban Ki-moon have told the Sudanese government and its rival in southern Sudan that they must accelerate preparations for the January votes and accept the results.

Bashir and his government have repeatedly said they will accept the results but voter registration and other basic logistics have yet to start.

Officials must be trained, tons of material must be printed and delivered across a region of jungle, swamp and grasslands the size of Spain and Portugal, but with only 60 km of tarred roads.