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UN Security Council to Visit Sudan in Preparation for January Referendum, Skipping Meeting with Pres

A 15-member UN Security Council delegation arrives today in Kampala, Uganda, to focus on preparations before the January referendum vote for Southern Sudan’s independence. According to a Security Council diplomat, the 15 members are making the trip at a critical juncture, just 100 days before the referendum. Council members believe having a timely vote is crucial to maintaining peace between North and South Sudan, said the diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous. The council members will travel first to Kampala, then will travel through Northern and Southern Sudan, as well as Khartoum and Darfur. The council delegation is scheduled to include U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, French Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud, and British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant. Grant said in a statement that “the council will be urging all sides to agree to an inclusive, comprehensive negotiated agreement, which focuses on the causes and consequences of the conflict, as this is the only route to lasting peace.”

Notably, the council will not meet with President Omar al-Bashir, but will instead meet with other government officials, according to Uganda’s UN Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, the current Council president. The International Criminal Court last year issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—marking the first time the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal has issued genocide charges. In September, the 53-member African Union asked the council to delay al-Bashir’s prosecution for a year, saying a trial would interfere with efforts to end the Darfur conflict. “The processes under way in the Sudan are too critical to the future of the country and the stability of the region and the continent as a whole to be allowed to fail,” the African Union’s UN observer, Tete Antonio, said. The council has yet to make a decision on whether to delay the prosecution under Article 16 of the Rome Statute.

Fighting in Darfur has left up to 300,000 people dead and forced 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to UN figures. Two of the major armed rebel groups refuse to negotiate peace deals with the government, and pressure to reach a peace deal ahead of the January 9 referendum has steadily intensified amidst logistical and political obstacles. Analysts have warned there is a risk of a return to conflict if southerners, who are widely expected to vote for independence, feel Khartoum is trying to delay or disrupt the vote to keep control of the region’s oil. The disputed oil-rich region of Abyei is also supposed to hold a referendum on the same day, Jan. 9, 2011, to decide whether to remain with the north or join the south. Chan Reec Madut, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, said Tuesday that the voter registration drive will have to be completed between November 14 and Dececmber 14 for the vote to happen as scheduled in January, and that he is optimistic that the vote will happen on time.

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