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US diplomat disapproves Sudan’s plan for a referendum in Darfur

March 31, 2011 (THE HAGUE) — US diplomat disapproved Khartoum’s plan to hold a referendum on Darfur administrative status saying the government should agree on the issue first with the rebel groups.

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Ambassador Dane Smith (L) listening to a relief worker in Darfur during a recent visit to the region (photo US State Dept)

Ambassador Dane Smith who is appointed last December as U.S. Senior Advisor on Darfur told the Netherlands based Radio Dabanga that Doha where the peace talks are held is the right place for such decision.

"We believe that the referendum is an issue that should be discussed in Doha," he said before to add "Holding a referendum should not be undertaken unilaterally but as part of the Doha process".

The mediation in the Qatari capital proposed to establish a transitional authority in Darfur which will supervise the organisation of a referendum on the administrative fate of the region one year before the general elections in the Sudan. But Khartoum’s rejection of the regional entity stalled the talks.

President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir on March 29 issued a decree providing to organize a referendum in the troubled region where Darfurians have to decide whether they want to keep the current status or to create a regional authority to administrate the region and represent them in Khartoum.

Presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Deen Attabani who is entrusted with Darfur file; said this referendum will allow to settle the deadlock in the negotiations on the status of the region with the rebel groups. He also said as long as no agreement is signed in Doha the government has to abide by the 2006 accords signed with Minni Minawi before to rebel again.

The envoy was also clear in his support to the Doha peace process. He went further to dismiss an alleged support to the government strategy to bring peace in Darfur through internal dialogue instead of the negotiations with the rebel groups.

"We have not endorsed any government strategy for Darfur," Dane said stressing when he was asked if he actually supports Khartoum plans to settle the conflict from inside the Sudan as it was reported by some Khartoum based dailies.

According to the American envoy, The US only said the Doha process (once an agreement is reached) "could lead to a Darfur based consultative process". He further said the internationally monitored consultation should be "very inclusive of all the key elements in Darfur " and the participants should "feel confident".

He emphasized several times in his interview with Radio Dabanga on the urgent need for a ceasefire agreement to be concluded in Doha. He also said the participation of all the rebel groups in the peace process is required.

During the interview, the US official showed a clear support to the Qatari sponsored peace talks more than the former special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration. He further denoted the "encouraging signs" coming out of the talks as the parties started working on the same text. He also underlined the political cooperation between the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM).

Nonetheless, he pointed out that proactive approach in the talks will accelerate the ongoing efforts for a durable settlement of the eight-year conflict.

"We want to encourage the parties; the Government of Sudan; the LJM and JEM to engage directly face to face, and really make every effort to reach a settlement including a ceasefire in the near future to bring this process to a fruitful end,"