The January 9 referendum on independence for Southern Sudan, once seen as a possible fuse for renewed civil war, appears on track for a fair and credible vote.
Organizers say they are "100 percent prepared" for the poll; almost half the South's people have registered to vote; and more than 100 international observers are expected to be on hand to help prevent fraud or intimidation. More importantly, the leaders of the two regions, once widely divided over the process and its details, are now sending hopeful signals that the people of South Sudan will have their say on the region's future and that their wishes will be respected.
The vote will be a key achievement of the 2005 accord that ended Africa's longest civil war. If the process were to collapse and fighting renewed, the results would be devastating for both the Sudanese people and the entire region.
In a rare visit to the southern capital of Juba this week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said his government wants a unified Sudan, but he would celebrate with its people if the South votes to split the largest nation in Africa in two and go its own way. He also said that given the two regions' historical ties, his government is prepared to give the South any technical or logistical support it might request.
Sudan and Southern Sudan have come a long way in the past few months, but there is still a long way to go to bring the 2005 accord to a peaceful conclusion. The United States is working hard with other members of the international community to ensure that the peace agreement is implemented fully. We are optimistic, however, that conditions now exist for a credible vote as part of that process.