Ivan Tulyakov (Russia)
Washington is increasing its diplomatic involvement in Sudan’s referendum on self-determination for the southern part of the country several months before it is to take place. The United States actively supports holding the self-determination referendum on the date scheduled—in early January 2011. People in the South must decide in the referendum whether to remain with the North as part of a single state.
Local media reports that Scott Gration, the US President’s Special Envoy for Sudan, recently visited several provinces in southern Sudan to assess the security situation.
Washington is extremely interested in splitting this large Muslim country on the African continent in two in order to prevent al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold there.
American intelligence believes that the Khartoum government maintains unofficial contacts with the terrorist organization. According to Washington, that puts Sudan on a par with Somalia and other African countries where al-Qaeda has bases. Should the referendum result in the South separating from the North, the United States could place a military base there, says the Sudanese media.
A few years ago, Sudan’s central government attempted to forcibly islamicize the southern areas of the country, whose people do not speak Arabic or profess Islam. Attempts by the Khartoum government to extend Sharia law throughout the country led to a civil war.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 ended a protracted civil war between the North and the South. According to that document, Sudan would remain in a transitional state for six years, until the end of 2010. After that, a self-determination referendum will be held for the south of the country.
In early June, however, six months before the referendum the US government officially informed southern Sudan that it is prepared to recognize the new state should the Southerners decide to secede from the North. That was reported by Pagan Amum, Secretary General of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), the leading political force in southern Sudan.
Novosti News Agency reported that Amum said the US administration is prepared to accept and respect the choice of the people of southern Sudan; if they vote to separate from the North, the United States will recognize the new government. Amum took part in talks held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi between US Vice President Joe Biden and Salva Kiir, head of the Government of Southern Sudan. He also said that Kiir and Biden agreed that there is not enough time remaining before the referendum to make living in a unified country attractive to the Southerners.
“The United States promised to provide technical and financial aid to southern Sudan and the Referendum Commission to help them hold a transparent referendum that would reflect the will of the people in the South,” Amum said.
The United States has earmarked $60 million for that purpose, said the US Consul General in Juba, Ava Rogers. She said the financial aid will be channeled through the US Agency for International Development, as well as through independent American agencies. She also stressed the need to hold the referendum in southern Sudan as scheduled.
Meanwhile, the central government in Khartoum is showing less interest in holding the referendum. Although Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir promised to accept any outcome of the plebiscite, he has warned about the adverse consequences of dividing the country.
Ibrahim Ghandour of the ruling National Congress Party said that the Referendum Commission has asked the government of Sudan and southern Sudan’s cabinet of ministers to postpone the vote scheduled for January 9, 2011.
The government is currently studying a proposal by the Referendum Commission to postpone the referendum, said Ghandour. He did not say how long the Commission wants to put off the vote.
Khartoum’s attempts to put off the referendum were not well received in the southern Sudan capital of Juba. SPLM leader Pagan Amum sharply criticized the Commission, saying “The Commission is now paralyzed, it is not working.” One of the obstacles it is encountering is its lack of agreement on a Secretary General.
In addition, by law the Commission must complete the final voter lists three months before the referendum — by October 9, 2010. However, its employees have not yet started compiling the lists. Also, they have so far been unable to begin work on determining the exact borders between northern and southern Sudan, without which the referendum cannot be held.
Nevertheless, Amum told Al Jazeera that people in the South will never agree to postpone the referendum.
The trip by Obama’s Special Envoy to southern Sudan four months before the referendum suggests that the United States is prepared to support the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in every way possible at the diplomatic level—which once again confirms that the referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan opens the way for a new pro-American state to emerge in the heart of Africa.
Source: New Eastern Outlook