This week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Sudanese leaders representing the north and south are meeting to finalize a framework for conducting a referendum early next year to determine the political future of the oil-rich area of Abyei in central Sudan. Progress has been slow in settling a number of issues leading up to that vote and another on whether Southern Sudan becomes independent.
The Abyei referendum is a critical element of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the National Congress Party and Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in 2005. U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration and U.S. Senior Adviser for North-South Negotiations Ambassador Princeton Lyman are facilitating the talks and are pressing the parties to reach a final agreement so preparations for the referendum can move forward.
The negotiations in Addis Ababa take place amid growing international concern over Sudan. Last month at a special UN summit, President Barack Obama and other world leaders called on Sudanese leaders to remain on the path of peace and make sure that peaceful referendums on Southern Sudan and Abyei that reflect the will of the Sudanese people take place on time.
Following the summit, the U.S. invited northern and southern Sudanese leaders to meet in New York to discuss preparations for the Abyei referendum. During those talks, the Sudanese leaders pledged to meet in Addis Ababa to finalize a plan to establish the Abyei Area Referendum Commission, decide on voter eligibility, and discuss other concerns related to Abyei’s future.
Sudan is at a critical point in its quest for peace and security, and time for action is growing short. Under the 2005 accord that ended Africa's longest civil war, the votes will be held January 9. If the process were to collapse and fighting renewed, the results would be devastating for both the Sudanese people and the entire region.
While preparations for Abyei’s referendum are behind schedule, both parties have reaffirmed that the vote can still take place on time. The parties need to make key decisions and take swift action. All parties must recommit themselves to the work at hand to ensure that a peaceful vote that reflects the will of the people of Abyei takes place on time in January.