Key powers concerned about Sudan's Abyei referendum
The United States, Britain and Norway on Wednesday welcomed how voter registration was proceeding for a January 9 referendum on southern Sudan's independence, but raised concerns about a parallel vote in the oil-rich Abyei region.
Tensions are so high regarding votes that could see the mainly Christian and animist south secede from Sudan, dominated by Arab Muslims in the north, that there are fears the two-decade civil war that ended in 2005 could be reignited.
"We welcome the peaceful and orderly conduct of registration to date at nearly 3,000 registration centers," the United States, Britain and Norway said in a joint statement released by the State Department.
"We welcome the commitment to the timely conduct of the referendum and respect for its outcome," the so-called Troika on Sudan said in a statement drafted remotely by the foreign ministries of the three countries.
The commission organizing Sudan's January 9 referendum on southern independence said last Friday that it had extended voter registration by one week, but that the date of the plebiscite remained the same.
Southern Sudanese began registering for the referendum on November 15, a key phase in the lead-up to the historic vote. The registration process had been due to end on December 1.
"We call upon both parties, and the Governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan, to take all necessary steps to ensure a campaigning environment for the referendum free from intimidation and obstruction," the Troika said.
"We urge both parties and governments to make clear that the rights and safety of southerners living in the north and northerners living in the south are fully protected throughout the referendum process and beyond," it added.
The three powers said they reaffirm their "abiding commitment" to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war in 2005 with a temporary power-sharing deal and plans for the referendums.
"We remain very concerned by the lack of agreement on Abyei," they said.
The January 9 referendum there will decide whether Abyei and the oil resources of its surrounding district remain part of north Sudan or join an autonomous or independent south.
"We welcome the forthcoming resumption of talks between President (Omar) Bashir and First Vice President (Salva) Kiir," they added, referring to the northern president and southern vice president who share power uneasily.
"And we urge both parties to reach urgent agreement on Abyei in a manner that reassures communities on the ground that their rights will be protected and maintains peace and stability in the area," the Troika said.
Last month the United States suggested for the first time that it might not be possible to organize a referendum in Abyei, and suggested North and South weigh an "alternative."
© 2010 AFP