NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–11 January 2011 – United Nations peacekeepers intensified their patrols in the border area between North and South Sudan after reports of deadly clashes as the week-long independence referendum in the South entered its third day today.
The area, particularly the oil-rich Abyei region, has been cited as a potential hotspot for renewed conflict as the 2005 peace agreement that ended 20 years of war between North and South Sudan reaches its culminating phase with the referendum, which could split Africa’s largest country in two and produce the UN’s 193rd Member State.
As well as the intensified patrols, the nearly 11,000-strong UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), set up in 2005 to support the accord, is on standby to reinforce its peacekeeping presence if needed, and it is engaging all concerned to defuse tensions and prevent a further escalation.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced deep concern at reports that clashes between Arab nomads and southerners in Abyei over the weekend claimed at least 36 lives, and he called on the northern and southern leaders to maintain calm and resume negotiations “as a mater of priority” to ensure that the issue is resolved peacefully.
Abyei was meant to hold a referendum on whether to join the North or South concurrent with the week-long independence referendum which ends on Sunday, but agreement on the modalities for the vote has not been reached, and in his most recent report on UNMIS, Mr. Ban cited the continuing stalemate as “a cause for alarm.”
He noted that tensions were building up on the ground and political sensitivities and historical complexities made it difficult for either party to consider options that could be seen as concessions by their constituents.
“In this charged environment, any major security incident could be damaging for the last stages of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement process,” he said, referring to the 2005 accord, which ended a civil war that killed some 2 million people and drove an estimated 4.5 million others from their homes.
Yesterday he spoke by phone with United States Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was in Southern Sudan to watch voters cast their ballots.
In his report, Mr. Ban praised both the National Government and Southern Sudanese regional authorities for ensuring that the referendum was held as scheduled and hailed the conciliatory statements by both sides to respect the outcome, but he also warned of the disastrous humanitarian consequences of renewed conflict.
“In the unlikely event that the referendum leads to large-scale violence, approximately 2.8 million people could be internally displaced and another 3.2 million affected by breakdowns in trade and social service delivery,” he said. “In this scenario, as much as $63 million might be required to provide emergency assistance to those in need.”
A three-member UN monitoring panel, headed by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, is currently touring polling centres, visiting various states in the South, talking to voters and meeting with Government and referendum officials.
Today Mr. Mkapa visited polling centres set up for southerners in South Darfur state and said he was impressed with the organization, including the training of staff.
“I am sure that the outcome of the polling this week will reflect the true feelings of the registered voters in South Darfur,” he said. “Because of these very good arrangements, and the good carrying-out of this referendum, my hope is that when the counting starts on the 15th [January], the process of tabulating and aggregation and the final announcement will be equally peaceful, smooth and transparent.”