Following national elections marred by violations of civil liberties and harassment of opposition groups, Sudan is at a critical juncture in its quest for peace and security. Under the 2005 accord that ended Africa's longest-running civil war, another vote is set to be held in January 2011.
Preparations are behind schedule, however, and all parties should commit themselves to the work at hand. If the process were to collapse and the fighting renewed, the results would be devastating for the people of Sudan, as well as the entire region.
The referendum will allow those living in southern Sudan to decide whether to remain part of the nation with religious and political autonomy or to break away and form their own nation. Before this can happen, the parties on the ground must resolve several important issues.
A border between the two regions must be demarcated in the event the South votes to go its own way. Division of the border region's oil revenues must be determined. And before any vote can be taken, southern Sudanese who fled the area due to the fighting must be registered. Procedural and logistical problems seen in last month's national and local elections must be addressed and corrected as well.
Fully implementing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement is a top priority of the United States. It is working on the ground in Sudan and at the highest levels within the international community to bring the parties together to organize and conduct a transparent and credible referendum, one that will bring the troubled region a lasting peace.