US says Sudan out of time on Abyei referendum
Sudan has run out of time to organize a referendum on the future of its disputed Abyei region, meaning the North and South must agree to a political solution for the oil-rich territory, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
Scott Gration, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Sudan, also said veteran U.S. diplomat Dane Smith had been appointed to deal with Darfur, where violence continues even as the international community focuses on Sudan’s January plebiscites.
Gration said the United States believed Sudan was on course for a January 9 referendum on independence for the South but that a simultaneous vote on the future of Abyei, which both North and South claim, was no longer possible.
“I think we’ve passed the opportunity for there to be a poll,” Gration told reporters. “It will take a political solution to resolve this issue.”
The fate of Abyei has emerged as one of the most serious potential flashpoints between North and South Sudan, which are bound by the 2005 peace deal that ended their long civil war to hold two referendums on January 9 on whether the South becomes independent and which region Abyei joins.
Most political analysts expect the South to vote for independence and the two sides are now trying to thrash out a deal on Abyei, which straddles the border and contains at least one significant oilfield — Defra, part of a block run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, a consortium led by China’s CNPC.
Gration said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir, the president of the South, were personally involved in discussions. Analysts say a potential deal could involve either partioning the region or allowing the South to take it over while compensating the North.
Gration said the United States and others were working hard to defuse any potential violence over Abyei.
“This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy,” Gration said. “What we’re looking for is a solution that probably makes both sides angry but neither side mad.”
Gration said the United States remained worried about the western region of Darfur and was naming Smith, a seasoned State Department Africa hand, to work with the United Nations, the African Union and the Khartoum government on ways to stabilize the situation.
“It gives us that additional focus, that additional specific effort that we need to be able to turn the tide here in Darfur,” Gration said.
Activist groups said Smith’s appointment may help to re-energize efforts on Darfur, where the United Nations says some 300,000 people died in a humanitarian crisis after Khartoum launched a counterinsurgency campaign in 2003.
“From bringing key rebel movements back into a revitalized peace process to delivering tangible improvements in security on the ground, the challenges in Darfur are considerable,” said Omer Ismail, a policy adviser at the Enough Project.
“But with the right levels of attention and expertise they can be achieved.”
Gration, who recently traveled to Darfur, said the United States held the government of Sudan primarily responsible for improving conditions in Darfur but said the rebel groups must also refrain from violence and permit humanitarian access. Reuters