The US special envoy to Sudan voiced concern yesterday about rising ethnic violence in its southern region and said Washington would step up efforts to help curb fighting ahead of nationwide elections next year.
“We are deeply concerned about the increase of inter-ethnic violence in the south and its effects on local populations,” special envoy Scott Gration, a retired Air Force general, told a US House of Representatives sub-committee on Africa and global health.
“As the elections and referenda approach, we will increase our efforts to help mitigate these threats and foster reconciliation efforts,” he said in the written text of his remarks, obtained by Reuters.
In addition to the April 2010 election, the country’s first in 24 years, a referendum on whether the semi-autonomous and oil-rich south should secede is planned for January 2011.
Analysts and UN officials say that rising violence and escalating north-south tensions ahead of next year’s vote threaten to unravel a fragile 2005 peace deal between Khartoum and the south that ended a two-decade civil war.
Gration said US officials were working closely with international and non-governmental organizations to provide emergency relief to people displaced by the recent violence.
The United States and its partners are also ready “to respond quickly if conflict breaks out in the months leading up to the April 2010 elections and the January 2011 referenda.”
Gration cited unofficial reports that nearly 12 million Sudanese have registered to vote, though he added that there have been “uneven registration rates across constituencies.”
“Voter registration will conclude next week, and while not without problems, we believe it is a positive step forward for the elections,” he said.
International observers have warned that millions of voters could be left out of the April vote because of a failure of authorities to persuade more people to register for the poll.
UN officials have said that the people of Sudan’s conflict-torn western Darfur region might be left out of the election due to large-scale displacement of much of the population, a dispute over a recent census and poor security.
The elections have already been marred by accusations of fraud and Sudanese opposition parties have threatened to boycott them if democratic reforms are not passed soon.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur. The United Nations says 2 million were driven from their homes and up to 300 000 people died. Khartoum rejects that figure.