Diplomats from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States have arrived in Sudan to oversee the referendum that may lead to the secession of South Sudan from north Sudan come 2011, as well as attend to rising issues in the Darfur region.
U.S. President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon have stepped up pressure on Sudan over the referenda in recent weeks.
“We welcome the visit of the Council, which will allow us to continue the dialogue so that members can see the facts on which the government’s position is based,” Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha was quoted by reporters.
US ambassador Susan Rice and British ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant will go to Darfur due to recent concerns about the incessant conflict there that has left at least 300,000 dead in the past eight years, according to United Nations estimates.
According to UN Security Council chairman Ruhakana Rugunda, diplomats from 10 other nations on the 15-member Council of the United Nations will also be in Sudan to assist with the process.
Referendums are to be held in South Sudan and the oil-rich region of Abyei on January 9 on whether southern Sudan wants to remain part of Sudan.
The referendum is part of a 2005 peace agreement between the Khartoum government and rebels in South Sudan that ended two decades of civil war which left about two million dead, according to UN estimates.
Obama told a special UN meeting on Sudan on September 24 that “the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance.”
“What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether people who have endured too much war, move towards peace or slip backwards to bloodshed. The votes must be peaceful, on time and credible,” President Obama was quoted as saying.
The international community expects both north and south Sudan to vote to break away, but preparations for the votes are seriously behind schedule, intensifying fears of autonomous declaration of independence; which could potentially result in a conflict.
“We want to encourage the north and south to do everything they can to hold the referenda on time and to make sure that if the south decides to go it alone then the transition is peaceful,” a diplomat from one council nation told AFP.
However, the foreign diplomats will not meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is under an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
“The council has not requested a meeting with the president, and the president has not offered to meet the council. The council will be meeting other senior officials,” Rugunda told reporters.
Nonetheless, Omar al-Bashir and his government have repeatedly said they will accept the result of the referendum.