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Sudan Tribune

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UNSG appoints ex-Tanzanian president to head Sudan referendum panel

September 21, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today tapped the former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapato to lead a panel that will monitor the South Sudan and Abyei referendum that is due early next year.

Tanzania's former president Benjamin Mkapa (Reuters)
Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa (Reuters)
Mkapato will be joined by the former Portuguese foreign minister Antonio Monteiro and former Nepalese election commission chairman Bhojraj Pokharel.

Under a 2005 peace agreement, South Sudan is due in January to vote in a referendum on independence and most observers expect southerners to overwhelmingly back full independence.

Another referendum will take place simultaneously in the contested oil-rich region of Abyei, where residents will have to decide whether they want to be part of north or south Sudan.

The request for the monitoring commission was made by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan people Liberation Movement (SPLM) this year.

“The Panel will make periodic visits to Sudan through the scheduled holding of the referenda in January 2011. Panel members will engage with all relevant actors, including the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the referendum commissions, civil society and observer groups. The Panel will follow key referenda processes, as well as the political and security situation. In addition to reporting to the Secretary-General on the conduct of the referenda, the Panel will work directly to enhance confidence in the process by encouraging the Parties and the relevant authorities to take corrective measures to resolve any significant problems or disputes that may arise,” said a statement released by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Spokesperson noted that the panel “is independent of the United Nations Mission in Sudan’s substantial programme of technical, logistical and security assistance for the two referenda”.

Also in New York, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Sudan 2nd Vice president Ali Osman Taha to discuss the referendum preparations ahead of a U.N. meeting on Sudan that will be attended by president Barack Obama.

Clinton laid out to VP Taha the steps needed to be taken by Khartoum for normalized ties.

“The secretary made clear that the door to improved relations with the United States … will open depending on Khartoum’s cooperation,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said.

The United States has intensified its diplomatic engagement with South Sudan and the northern government in Khartoum and offered both sides last week a new package of incentives to reach a deal, balanced by the threat of new punitive measures including sanctions if progress stalls.

“Vice President Taha was very direct: there are some things that Sudan wants to get out of its future relations with the United States,” Crowley said of the meeting.

“I think there was a very good understanding of the opportunities but also the consequences and the importance of Khartoum demonstrating its commitment” to the 2005 peace agreement,” he added.

Crowley said that Taha reiterated Khartoum’s commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which the VP has personally helped seal five years ago in Kenya.

The U.S. top diplomat also met today with Libyan and Qatari foreign ministers for talks on a wide range of issues including Sudan.