Britain announced a £54 million ($86.38 million) aid package for Sudan yesterday and said the African country faced a “crucial and critical time” ahead of elections important for the whole region’s stability.
The oil-producing country, which emerged from a north-south civil war in 2005, is due to hold its first multi-party elections in more than two decades in April, followed by an independence referendum in southern Sudan next year, as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Failure to deliver credible elections could see a return to conflict, with implications not only for Sudan and its oil production, but for the whole region, minister for Africa Glenys Kinnock said.
“We understand these are crucial and critical times for Sudan,” she said.
“The risk of a return to further conflict is a real one. We understand and accept that.
We know what has to be done, and we just have to get on and do it.”
Kinnock said Britain and the international community must pursue “strong and determined engagement” with Sudan, if long-term peace and security was to be secured.
During the past 12-18 months the international community has helped diffuse tensions fuelled by competion for oil revenues in a country divided along religious, ethnic and ideological lines.
The 2005 CPA formed a coalition government between the northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
But relations between the former civil war foes have been troubled, with disputes over borders and referendum details.
Kinnock said she recognised contentious issues remained, including sustainable development, sharing oil revenues, and economic diversification, and called for greater rights for peaceful protest and freedom of speech.
She played down talk of postponing the elections, saying it was neither desirable nor feasible.
If the oil-rich south voted for separation a “lot of bargaining” would be needed on oil and other issues, she said, with a “great deal of thought” required.
Last year the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of war crimes such as orchestrating mass killings and deportations in the western Darfur region. Khartoum denies Bashir or any other official committed war crimes in Darfur.