Yesterday at a press conference US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration “said that the United States believed Sudan was on course for a Jan. 9 referendum on independence for the South but that a simultaneous vote on the future of Abyei, which both North and South claim, was no longer possible.” The situation in Abyei and the National Congress Party (NCP)”s continued talk of invalidating the referendum on Southern secession have observers worried that North and South Sudan will return to civil war.
Regarding the delay in Abyei, Josh Rogin spells out the potential consequences:
The revised goal [for holding Abyei’s referendum later] appears to be somewhat less ambitious, but no less critical: if the outstanding issues in dispute in Abyei are unresolved before the South votes on Jan. 9 — and if the expected outcome of secession hold — both sides could claim ownership of the province and violence could erupt.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, said that the Abyei situation was extremely tense and represented the greatest risk of violence in the near term. If Abyei breaks out in violence, it could threaten the overall Southern Sudan referendum, the official said.
“In terms of violence that would upset the (Jan. 9) referendum, Abyei could be a flashpoint that would be disturbing enough that there would be cause for a delay,” the officials said. “It’s important that the (Sudanese) presidency come out with some roadmap, some solution, that the people in that area know what their future is going to be.”
Rogin adds that US officials see a real possibility that the main referendum will face its own delay, and fear “that even a short delay in the overall referendum could cause huge problems in Sudan.” A major legal challenge to the referendum has appeared, prompting “Southern leaders [to say] the case had been stage-managed by the north’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to sabotage the vote…The [ruling party in the South, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or SPLM] has refused any delay, fearing it would spark violence among expectant southerners which they would be unable to control.” The delay in Abyei thus intersects with larger fears that technical and legal challenges surrounding the South’s referendum will cause chaos and violence.
Added to these problems is the NCP’s rhetoric on the referendum, which ranges from ambivalent to hostile. President Bashir’s latest comments on the referendum left open the possibility of its invalidation:
Mr. Bashir noted that the CPA requires all sides to make make unity an attractive option for voters.
“In Sudan, we are still awaiting the unity of our country in accordance with the stipulations of Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which calls for the two partners of the agreement to work together to make the unity option attractive,” said Bashir. “We are committed to accept the results – whether unity or secession – as long as the referendum is conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.”
These remarks take on added resonance coming only a few days after a stronger statement by another senior NCP official:
A prominent member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) violated the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by “openly” declaring support for secession by south Sudan ahead of next month’s referendum.
Rabie Abdelati Obeid told VOA the violation could lead to a total cancelation of the CPA, which ended over two decades of civil war between the north and the south.
“There is a clear item and a clear provision in the CPA saying that both (the) SPLM and the NCP should work together to achieve unity. And, by violating this clause in the CPA, I think that the SPLM has canceled the CPA and are working against the CPA,” said Obeid.
“I don’t think the NCP now will respect these practices and these announcements (supporting secession) by SPLM. And, this will lead ultimately to undermining even (the) peace and even the result of the referendum, as now the CPA will have no effect on the political situation in our country.”
Obeid was referring to this incident.
Hints from the NCP that it might invalidate the referendum, combined with the other issues mentioned above, raise the level of uncertainty in Sudanese politics even higher. With the South’s referendum only twenty-six days away, and so many issues unresolved, the possibility of disaster (specifically, violence leading to renewed civil war) seems very real.
More from the State Department here.
AP reports on bombings near the North-South border. Northern and Southern authorities are arguing over what happened, who the bombs were targeting, and whose territory the bombs actually landed in, but in any case this is another sign of tension.