Sudan must act fast to ensure free vote: Britain

Sudan’s former north-south foes must resolve their differences quickly to avoid derailing a peace deal ahead of the first multi-party elections in decades, Britain said yesterday.
Tensions are high between the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) over key laws governing the powerful intelligence forces and the results of a census, key for next year’s vote.
“There does need to be quicker progress made if the (deal) is not to be derailed,” Britain’s state minister for development Gareth Thomas said during a visit to Sudan.
He said his message to both sides was they had to have the “courage to compromise” on their differences to ensure the elections, set for April 2010, were free and fair.
Sudan’s two-decade civil war claimed 2 million lives and drove 4 million from their homes, destabilising much of east Africa.
Some 20 political parties have threatened to boycott the elections if Sudan’s laws are not amended in line with the constitution written after the 2005 peace deal, which enshrined democratic transformation and gave the south a vote on secession in 2011.
Thomas said the government recognised it would be “challenging” to hold elections in the war-torn Darfur region but was committed to include it in the vote.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir this year for war crimes in Darfur, where a separate rebellion exploded in 2003.
Khartoum expelled 13 aid agencies from the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur in response to the court’s decision.
Thomas said he was encouraged that some new aid agencies had registered in Sudan.
But he said Khartoum needed to show more appreciation for aid workers working in dangerous conditions.
“I think the government does recognise that there has been an impact on capacity (by the expulsions),” he said.
Britain is the second largest bilateral donor to Sudan, earmarking £115 million (R1346 million) for development this year, rising to £140 million (R1638 million) next year.

Pic: President Al Bashir of Sudan