U.S President Barack Obama has written to a number of African leaders urging them to ensure a successful 2011 referendum that may split or sustain Africa’s largest nation Sudan. Obama urged Sudan’s neighbors to exact pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The letter was sent to leaders in Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and the African Union with the referendum on southern independence just three weeks away.
The Obama administration made Sudan a foreign policy priority and has pressured Khartoum on key issues, including the ongoing crisis in Darfur and the talk of secession of the south from the north.
As the date for the referendum approaches, southerners are expected to vote massively for independence from the north. President Obama on Sunday stressed U.S. commitment to a peaceful vote.
“Over the past four months, the administration has redoubled our efforts to support referendum preparations and peace negotiations between the two parties. We believe that an on-time referendum is the best means of preventing the resumption of a full-scale war between northern and southern Sudan,” White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer told reporters.
In adherence to President Obama’s letter, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Mummar Ghaddafi are scheduled to visit northern Sudan on Tuesday for talks with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.
Obama is trying to stimulate neighboring African nations to pressure Khartoum to make sure the vote takes place on time and the outcome is respected.
“President Obama has made it clear that Sudan is one of the administration’s top priorities; we have a vision of hope, peace and prosperity for the people of Sudan. We believe an on-time referendum is the best means to prevent a resumption of full scale war between north and south Sudan,” Hammer told reporters.
The January 9 vote for independence is a part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south that put an end to more than two decades of civil war.
“We have, and will continue to, put an enormous amount of effort toward ensuring that the referendum goes off on time, peacefully, and that the results are respected,” Hammer added.
The result of the referendum could bring an end to one of Africa’s most bitter conflicts, or reignite it.