Sudan: International community striving to prevent war

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Despite strong statements by both north and south Sudan to steer clear of war whatever the outcome of the largest African country’s January referendum on independence for the south, the United Nations, expressing little faith in the promises of peace, has decided to send in more peacekeepers.

Reports claim the United Nations was talking with the north and south “on options for a possible augmentation of additional UN troops to increase referendum and post-referendum security. ”

The UN force in Sudan, known as UNAMID, currently has about 10,000 troops in Sudan. But UN leader Ban Ki-moon has appealed for donations for 63 million dollars “to pre-position humanitarian assistance near potential hotspots.”

“The presence of UN troops will not be enough to prevent the return to war should widespread hostilities erupt. The potential for unintentional conflict is especially high in oil-rich Abyei, where there are the strongest fears that the referendum will not be held on time,” Ban Ki-moon was quoted on Tuesday, as saying.

Hostile public statements and accusations of ceasefire violations which risk heightening anxiety and provoking isolated security incidents have been identified as possible channels to a wider conflict.

Nonetheless the UN says aid agencies have built emergency plans to provide support in case of “referendum-related violence.”

The January referendum could sustain or divide the country and tensions between the north and south have risen as troubled preparations for the vote move slowly ahead.

Despite the international community’s continued worry on whether the January 9 vote will be on time, voter registration began on schedule on Monday, and the north. And south have agreed to make a new effort to agree on borders, the sharing of oil revenues and other stalled issues.

An extra incentive for peace was offered by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton offered Sudan better relations with Washington, and also promised to take Sudan off the US list of terrorist backers, if Khartoum holds the referendum on time, recognize the result and settle the future of Abyei.

“If Sudan commits to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur and takes other steps toward peace and accountability, the US administration is ready to offer an end to US sanctions, help with international debt relief, increased trade and forging a mutually beneficial relationship,” Clinton was quoted.

The January 9 vote is critical to peace and stability not just for Sudan but also for the volatile region. Clinton urged the two sides to speed up their negotiations and avoid inflammatory rhetoric, quash rumors and reduce bitterness.

According to former South African president, and International envoy to Sudan, Thabo Mbeki, talks involving Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan’s leader Salva Kiir would start Monday November 22.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti has said that many “positive developments” had emerged and the two sides would “cooperate on solving issues and will not go back to war.”

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