UNITED NATIONS, Tuesday
The UN’s peacekeeping chief has told the UN Security Council that even a reinforced UN force in Sudan could not prevent hostilities between the north and the south if tensions over the referendums boil over.
UN peacekeeping chief Alain LeRoy told a Security Council debate on Sudan that the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was considering redeploying troops from the rest of the country to the north-south frontier or calling for international reinforcements.
He said any redeployment would weaken the UN peacekeeping mission in the rest of Sudan but added: “Any increase in the number of troops would not enable UNMIS to prevent or contain a clash on the frontier.”
“Our best available tool against a return to war remains our commitment in favor of a political agreement... of the parties on the key pending issues,” he said.
Mr LeRoy said there had been no “major military mobilisation” but added that it was “urgent” that progress is made in Abyei talks.
Earlier, Sudan’s UN ambassador warned that the country could slip back into civil war over an independence vote as the United Nations voiced new fears about delayed preparations.
The referendums in southern Sudan and the Abyei region are part of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement made in 2005 to end the two-decade old Sudan civil war which left more than two million dead.
But preparations for both votes are way behind schedule and many western nations fear conflict if the referendums are delayed.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply concerned” about events in the oil-rich Abyei region. No referendum commission has been set and the region’s leaders have not yet reached accord with the Khartoum government on who is eligible to vote or its borders.
“The stakes are undeniably high, as failure to meet the deadline for the referendums prescribed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement could have severe consequences,” he saidd. With the south and the north accusing each other of a military build-up on their frontier, the UN mission in Sudan UNMIS has already stepped up monitoring along the frontier and reinforcing border “hotspots”.
Meanwhile, talks over the contested oil-rich Abyei region straddling north and south Sudan that were due to resume in Ethiopia on Wednesday have been postponed, South Africa’s former president said on Monday.
“The 27 October Addis Ababa meeting cannot be conducted because it needs a good preparation and more consultation with all parties,” Thabo Mbeki told reporters in the Sudanese capital.
“All parties agreed on the decision to delay this meeting,” added Mr Mbeki, who headed an African Union delegation in talks with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
He said a new date for resumed talks on a planned January 9 referendum for Abyei would be announced later.
The ballot is for the people of Abyei to decide whether to remain in north Sudan or join the south.
Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, warned against any attempt to hold the Abyei vote on January 9 without an accord.
“It is evident that any attempt to conduct the plebiscite before achieving an acceptable settlement between the two parties will mean only a return to war,” Mr Osman told a Security Council debate on Sudan.
Meanwhile, hundreds of cheering southern Sudanese packed a concert hall in the regional capital Juba to watch contestants battle it out to provide the music for a “national” anthem, less than 80 days before a planned referendum on independence.
“This is a historic moment,” said Mido Samuel, one of three entrants who made the final shortlist after an initial field of 36 was whittled down in the competition which climaxed late on Sunday.
“Having a national anthem for me means that I am declaring to everybody that I am now free,” he said.
South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war with the north during which about two million people died in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources, including oil. (AFP)