(HN, October 20, 2010) --- Actor George Clooney and author and human rights activist John Prendergast recently told the Washington political leadership - including President Obama, that the United States needs to stay involved in Sudan to avoid an “inferno.”
They also urged the US to put pressure on leaders in advance of southern Sudan’s independence referendum scheduled for 9 January 2011.
“We have an opportunity to prevent war from happening instead of mopping up a mess later on,” Clooney said.
Clooney is a co-founder of ‘Not On Our Watch’, an organization whose mission it is to focus global attention and resources to stop and prevent atrocities in Darfur; Prendergast is co-founder of the Enough Project. The two were in Washington reporting on their recent fact finding trip to Sudan.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement
The referendum was promised by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed in 2005, ending decades of the north-south civil war. Under the agreement, the south formed its own government, which has limited autonomy and in which the north has a small representation. South Sudan is represented in the government of national unity, which is led by the Khartoum-based National Congress Party (NCP).
According to Clooney and Prendergast there have been 5 years to implement the CPA. However, Prendergast said: “The ball got dropped the day the peace agreement was signed...as we do so often we go off to the next thing and left the Sudanese to their own devices. If we don’t urgently attend to Sudan the south will be an inferno again.”
Sudan this week and the question of Abyei
This week President Omar al-Bashir has said he is still committed to hold the referendum on the south’s independence, but insisted both sides first had to settle differences over their borders. Other oustanding issues include the sharing of oil, debt and Nile river water.
Southern Sudan president Salva Kiir vowed that the country would not return to civil war. "We do not want Abyei to become a potential trigger for a conflict again between the south and the north," Kiir said.
Much of the attention focuses on Abyei - a historical bridge between north and south which sits in the oil-rich Muglad Region.
In July 2009, an international tribunal redefined the borders of the disputed oil region by splitting the contested zone between the two sides. In its ruling the tribunal, seated at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, overruled a decision by an international commission that Sudan's government rejected four years earlier. The ruling gives the north uncontested rights to rich oil deposits like the Heglig oil field, which had previously been placed within the Abyei region, which sits on the border between north and south. But the decision leaves at least one oil field in Abyei and gives a symbolic victory to the Ngok Dinka, an ethnic group loyal to southern Sudan that has pushed to join it in a referendum.
Last Thursday, October 14, Dirdiri Mohammad Ahmad, of the National Congress Party (NCP), said the January 9 vote on whether it should be part of the north or the south of the country could be delayed for months or the territorial row would be settled without a poll.
"It is very clear that right now it is not possible to have the Abyei referendum on 9 January, 2011. We all agree that this is no longer practical," he told reporters in Khartoum
Ahmad said Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) could reach "a conclusion on the final status of the Abyei area" without having to decide the matter through a referendum.
Abyei's administrator and a member of the SPLM, Deng Arop Kuol, said the region's residents would not accept a delay and may hold their own vote without the central government's approval.
"A delayed vote is unacceptable," he said. "The people of Abyei are still holding out for the referendum to be held on January 9. If the government does not give them that option, we can have a self-run referendum."
Another real concern in Sudan is that, two years after the peace treaty, much of the south is heavily militarized. The reason has been that the north has grown dependent on the oil from the south and if the south secedes, the north stands to lose billions of dollars yearly.
Both the north and south claim the oil-producing region and fought over it during the two-decades long war, in which around two million people died.
A delay of either the Abyei or secession referendum threatens to revive a new conflict between the two sides.
- HUMNews Staff