U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend a special summit on Sudan on Friday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday named Tanzania’s former President Benjamin Mkapa as head of a panel to monitor the plebiscites both in the south and in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei.
According to the U.N, the summit is intended to send a strong signal to north and south Sudan that the world is committed to helping them ensure that the secession referendum — which finalizes the 2005 peace deal which ended decades of war between the two sides – is properly handled.
Rights groups have often criticized the United States for not being tough enough on the Khartoum government, and the new U.S. policy which does not publicly spell out specific consequences that may ensue if northern Sudan obstructs or delays the referendum for southern independence.
President Obama is attending the special summit because the U.S has promised improved economic ties with the Khartoum government if the referendum for southern independence is carried out amicably.
The special summit is expected to urge the two sides to ensure a credible vote, and will also likely express concern at continued violence in Darfur.
Speaking to Sudan Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the January 9 referendum on the independence of south Sudan could be an opportunity for the northern government in Khartoum to improve relations with the U.S.
Taha has been urged to support the country’s electoral commission, prepare ballots and register voters — all essential steps if the plebiscite is to take place.
Clinton’s meeting with Taha followed Washington’s offer this month of a new set of incentives to Khartoum, which has been under international sanctions since the mid-1990s.
“We know that every day is important and we do have expectations that both north and south need to take very specific steps (to) cooperate. The secretary made clear that the door to improved relations with the United States … will open depending on Khartoum’s cooperation,” a statement from the State Department read.
The United States says it will gradually improve both economic and diplomatic relations, with the prospect of full normalization if Khartoum allows the vote to take place, fully implements the 2005 peace deal and resolves outstanding issues in the western region of Darfur.
Observers say Sudan does not have enough time to organize the votes, and analysts fear any delay, or messy outcome to the vote, could spark a new civil war, with dire consequences for the region.