The U.S. is working to avoid the “danger” that could develop if Southern Sudan fails to hold a long-planned referendum on whether to secede from Sudan and form a separate nation, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said.
Preparations are behind schedule for the Jan. 9 referendum, a key part of the 2005 peace agreement that ended the civil war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the oil-producing south, where Christianity and traditional beliefs dominate. A disputed border area, Abyei, will hold its own referendum on which side to join.
“We recognize the potential danger if credible referenda are not held,” Crowley said at a briefing today. “That’s why we are working intensively to try to get the parties to agree so that the referenda on the future of South Sudan and Abyei can be held on time.”
Crowley said the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, was expected to go to the country tomorrow. Former Ambassador Princeton Lyman, called in to assist Gration, is already in the area, he said.
The referendum law says the initial voter registration lists should have been ready by Aug. 31, with the final lists to be released three months before voting. Registration is now set to begin Nov. 14.
Sudan’s state-run news agency, SUNA, said Oct. 20 that the initial voter list will be announced Dec. 6 and that the referendum will take place on Jan. 9 as scheduled.
Southern Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, said Sept. 22 that “any delays risk a return to instability and violence of a massive scale.” A recent study by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute shows a majority of Southern Sudanese favoring independence, while Sudan’s government is campaigning for voters in the region to reject secession.
Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest crude oil producer, pumping 490,000 barrels a day, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Most of that oil is pumped in Southern Sudan, and proceeds are currently split between the north and the south.