Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is planning a trip to Sudan, “both to the north and south,” for talks with the leaders of Khartoum and Juba on the “post-referendum phase” (the future after January’s due referendum that will decide whether the south wishes to secede from the north),Moussa’s Chief of Cabinet Hesham Youssef told Ahram Online.
The visit, according to Youssef, will take place “during the first week of December or so.” Meanwhile, the Arab League announced a meeting at the level of permanent representatives to take place Saturday, 27 November, to examine the same issue.
Moussa’s talks in Khartoum and Juba will take place four weeks ahead of the 9 January 2011 scheduled poll. According to a peace agreement signed in 2005 ending a two-decade civil war between the north and south, citizens of the south would have a chance to vote in a referendum on their independence.
UN sources say that the means required for a fair and transparent referendum remain lacking. Some have suggested the need for a few more weeks to complete the necessary preparations. A “logistics delay” is only possible, said one UN source, upon an agreement between the UN and the Juba-based government of South Sudan.
The greatest hurdle so far is the registration of eligible voters who do not live only in the south of Sudan but also in the north and in neighbouring East African countries where they sought refuge during the years of civil war.
Another key hurdle is the failure of negotiating teams from the north and south to conclude agreement on pending issues that should be —according to the 2005 peace agreement —settled ahead of the referendum. The demarcation lines between the north and the south and the affiliation of the oil-rich Abyei region have both escaped agreement.
Egypt has been trying to convince the government of South Sudan, and for that matter the US, to consider a consensual delay, to avoid having a referendum whose results might be contested either in the north or the south. So far, neither Washington nor Juba seems inclined to agree to a delay.
“We have reason to fear that if the referendum is conducted in a hasty fashion just to meet the 9 January deadline the results could prompt military confrontations between the north and south, and this is what we are working to prevent,” said an Egyptian diplomat.
A new civil war —either immediately after the referendum or eventually —is a scenario that a recent Frontier and Aegis report clearly warned of. Issued Thursday, the report predicts that the economic cost of a new civil war in Sudan would be devastating, both for Sudan itself, its neighbours (including Egypt), and countries investing heavily in Sudan, particularly China.
The report called on all concerned parties to “accelerate international efforts to prepare for and to support a peaceful, credible and timely referendum in Southern Sudan and Abyei”. It also called for greater efforts to be made by all concerned “to assist the Sudanese parties reach agreement on outstanding issues such as border demarcation, oil sharing and citizenship ahead of the referendum.”