South Sudan vote wins international praise
The United States, Britain and Norway hailed the start on Sunday of a week-long referendum on south Sudan's independence, applauding the vote's organisers as well as northern and southern leaders.
The top diplomats from the three countries expressed rare praise for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
"President Bashir has made clear that his government will respect the outcome of the referendum. We welcome this commitment," Hillary Clinton, William Hague and Jonas Gahr Store said in a joint statement.
They described the start of voting as "a historic step towards completion of Sudan's comprehensive peace agreement," the US-brokered accord signed by the north and south in 2005 that ended a devastating 22-year civil war.
But they highlighted their "deep concerns" about the situation in Abyei, a flashpoint region on the north-south border where two tribes clashed on Sunday, killing at least nine people.
"We commend the people of Abyei for their patience in recent months... and we emphasise again to both parties their responsibilities to urgently resolve the impasse," the Western diplomats said.
The United States led an intense diplomatic push ahead of the landmark referendum to ensure hitches cannot derail the vote that is expected to see the mainly Christian south split with the Arab-Muslim north.
US envoys Scott Gration and John Kerry were among those who have travelled Sudan in the past week.
Washington has offered Sudan "dramatically" improved relations with the United States if the vote is peaceful.
© 2011 AFP