A referendum to determine Sudan’s political future will take place in January as scheduled, the U.S. envoy to the country, Scott Gration, said today.
Southern Sudan is set to vote Jan. 9 on whether to remain united with Northern Sudan or form an independent country. The vote is the centerpiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21- year civil war between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south.
“There should be no reason preventing the referendum from happening on time,” Gration said in a call with reporters after a three-day visit to Sudan. He said, though, that potential court challenges could delay the referendum.
Gration also announced the appointment of veteran diplomat Dane Smith, a former ambassador to Senegal and Guinea, to focus on issues surrounding Darfur.
Gration said that in order to make sure the referendum took place on time, the voter registration period was shortened from the three months required under law to one month in some areas.
“It’s my belief the process has been good, has been transparent,” Gration said. Any challenge would likely come from individuals, not the government of Sudan, he said.
Gration said he remains concerned about the possibility of violence surrounding the vote, and that he had stressed to all parties the importance of protecting the citizenry should clashes erupt.
“We’ve made very clear that the parties have to play a major role in protecting their citizens,” Gration said. “Frankly, we’re just going to have to keep a real strong eye out on this.”
The majority of Southern Sudanese favor independence, according to an Oct. 20 study by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.
Sudan’s army has been fighting rebels in Darfur since 2003, when insurgents took up arms, accusing the government of neglecting the region. The conflict has led to the death of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, and forced about 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to United Nations estimates. The Sudanese government has put the death toll at about 10,000.
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