Sudan’s leaders must redouble efforts to guarantee fair elections or risk plunging the giant African nation back into chaos and violence, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“The parties in Sudan have a choice. They can revert back to a dark era of conflict or they can move forward together for a lasting peace,” Clinton said in a statement marking the fifth anniversary of a fragile peace agreement that ended two decades of civil war between north and south Sudan.
Clinton expressed concern that violence was already on the upswing in the south and in the western Darfur region ahead of multi-party elections in April, the first in more than two decades, and an independence referendum for the oil-producing south next year.
“In the months ahead, strong leadership will be even more essential, especially in light of setbacks that have already occurred in this pre-election process,” Clinton said.
The White House, in its own statement, said recent setbacks including violent clashes in the south, passage of a repressive national security act by Khartoum, and the government’s violent suppression of peaceful protests, “do not bode well for the region or the people of Sudan.”
“Consistent with our strategy, the United States will continue to call to account those responsible for delays and deviations from the path to lasting peace,” the White House statement said.
During the past 12-18 months the international community has helped ease tensions fueled by competition for oil revenues in a country divided along religious, ethnic and ideological lines.
The 2005 peace deal 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.
The United States in October announced a new policy on Sudan, offering the Khartoum government a mix of incentives and pressures to encourage democratic change.
Clinton, while calling on all parties to deliver on promises of better governance, singled out the NCP as bearing greater responsibility for implementing the peace deal ahead of the elections.
“There must be no efforts to restrict freedom of speech and assembly, and there must be no prohibitions on peaceful protests,” she said.
The US special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, said while some progress had been made, “there are things that need to be fixed” particularly in Darfur, where a counter-insurgency drive against rebels that began in 2003 created a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations says killed more than 300 000 people.
Gration said he will visit Kenya and Uganda later in January before heading to Sudan in February. He added that US diplomats also planned a review of the Sudan strategy to date.
“We’re taking a look at those areas where there hasn’t been progress, where we need to have more push and more pressure,” he said.