Africa’s top security official said he saw no need for pessimism over a referendum in January that could split Sudan into two, despite concerns it could turn violent.
The January 9 referendum, part of a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war, is likely to produce a vote in favour of independence for southern Sudan, diplomats and analysts say, but it also could be a flashpoint for renewed conflict.
“We are on a track of action and of support for what is being done by the parties … so we don’t have particular reasons to cultivate pessimism,” said Ramtane Lamamra, the Africa Union’s Peace and Security Commissioner.
“We share the determination of the Sudanese parties to do everything to make this date,” Lamamra told Reuters in an interview in the Libyan capital, Reuters reports.
Lamamra was speaking after the African Union’s Peace and Security Council was briefed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who heads a panel of African “wise men” trying to ease disagreements between feuding groups in Sudan. The United Nations is to increase the number of peacekeepers it has in Sudan in preparation for the referendum.
The government in Khartoum does not want the oil-producing south to secede, and the two sides have argued about how the vote will be conducted. Analysts say violence could flare if the referendum is delayed or tampered with.
A joint summit of the European Union and African Union in Tripoli on Tuesday approved a resolution urging all sides to accept the outcome of the referendum
AL QAEDA RANSOMS
Lamamra also said the African Union wanted the United Nations to make it illegal to pay ransoms to militant groups anywhere in the world.
Security analysts say these payments are used to finance militant violence.
They point in particular to payments made in the past for the release of Westerners held by al Qaeda’s north African wing. The group is now holding seven hostages, including five French nationals, who were abducted in Niger.
The African Union has asked the U.N. Security Council to look at amending an international convention on hostage-taking to outlaw ransom payments to militants.
“Now the ball will be in the United Nations’ court,” Lamamra said. “These kind of things are advances in the international legal order which are desirable, which are possible, but which require an international consensus.”