Citing critical issues still outstanding less than three months before referenda take place on whether southern Sudan secedes from Africa`s largest country and reported troop build-ups by both sides, the United Nations today pledged to increase its capacity as needed to prevent confrontations that could derail the entire peace process.
We have reached the most critical phase of Sudan`s peace process regarding full implementation of the CPA, " Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon`s Special Representative Haile Menkerios told a news conference in Khartoum, the capital, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of warfare between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People`s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the south.
During this critical time, the UN stands ready to support, along with other partners, the parties` efforts to address challenges at the political level, to increase its capacity and efforts to address security challenges, and at the technical level to assist the bodies responsible to prepare for and conduct the referenda credibly and on time. "
But he stressed that no decision had yet been made by the Security Council or Mr. Ban for additional troops or their deployment for the 9 January referenda " one on self-determination in Southern Sudan, the final stage in the CPA, and the second in the oil-rich Abyei region to decide whether to be part of northern or southern Sudan.
The UN, Mr. Menkerios said, will continue to better prepare, in consultation with the parties, to help meet the challenges with increased capacity and vigour " as needed in view of the hitches, especially on the security front, that can grow and lead to unexpected sparks that can grow to unwanted confrontation, thus jeopardizing the entire peace process the two parties have worked and continue to work for. "
The north-south civil war killed at least 2 million people, uprooted 4.5 million more, and forced some 600,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.
Mr. Menkerios underlined the UN`s support for a top-level meeting by the two sides under African Union (AU) auspices in Ethiopia on 27 October to tackle outstanding technical and security issues, while also noting voices from officials of both sides [that] have been heard to express sentiments that cause alarm, that can cause apprehension and tension to grow internally, " casting doubt on the real intention of the parties over the CPA`s implementation.
We have heard, in the press, accusations and counter-accusations from both sides about troop build-ups and deployment in violations of the ceasefire agreement in certain parts of the ceasefire zone, " he said, noting the overall tension.
Asked about a possible postponement of the referenda, he said the two parties continue to declare that they would like to hold them as scheduled.
While we understand and respect the determination to have the referenda happen on time and we shall do everything in our capacity to assist them to do so " we are operating on that basis " we have also advised that no shortcuts should be taken in the process that could undermine or that could jeopardize the credibility of the process and the legitimacy of its outcome, " he added.
Summing up the overall situation, the official said: As the referenda which are the concluding benchmark of the CPA process approach, it has become more evident that critical issues remain to be addressed that would smoothen their conduct, not as preconditions, but as important issues that address the concerns of all stakeholders in the process for a peaceful future, a future of peaceful cooperation for mutual benefit, as one country and one people, or as two countries and neighbouring peoples whose destiny is interconnected as all other Africans. "
On Friday, the head of a UN panel monitoring the upcoming referenda expressed concern over the lack of progress in several key areas, especially voter registration, with less than three months remaining until people head to the polls.
We are not here to run the referenda process, or be election observers, or certify the results, " former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, who heads the three-member body appointed by the Secretary-General, said at a press conference in Khartoum.
This is a Sudanese-owned process, and the primary responsibility for ensuring that the referenda are credible lies with the Sudanese themselves. The role of the international community is to provide support to them. "
The remaining challenges facing the referenda process cannot be resolved overnight, he said at the end of the panel`s week-long visit to Sudan, which also took them to Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, and Abyei.
But with enough will and hard work from the Sudanese parties, as well as increased support from the international community, we are confident that the referenda can still be successful, " Mr. Mkapa said, pledging to continue working with all parties to reach this goal.
While in Sudan, the panel " also including AntÃ³nio Monteiro, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Portugal, and Bhojraj Pokharel, former Chairman of the Nepalese Election Commission " met with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
They also held talks with senior officials from both governments, members of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and Bureau, the Chairman as well as Deputy Chairman of the Abyei Administration and representatives of the UN, diplomatic corps, observer groups and civil society.