Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sudan peace accord at `critical stage'

UNITED NATIONS (AP)

The Security Council extended the 13,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan for a year Thursday, deploring the persistent violence in the region and warning the 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of fighting is at «a critical stage.

The unanimously adopted resolution stresses the importance of «full and expeditious implementation» of the peace deal, noting that key issues remain unresolved including the north-south boundary and the future of oil-rich Abyei, just north of the disputed border.

«The Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended one of Africa's longest and bloodiest civil wars and remains the bedrock for peace and security in Sudan,» Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers told the council.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called the agreement «vital to bringing lasting peace to the people of Sudan. The resolution stresses the council's «firm commitment to the cause of peace and stability throughout Sudan and the region, noting the importance of the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ... and recognizing that the CPA has reached a critical stage.

Sawers cited the «significant tests» that lie ahead: holding transparent parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2010, disarming and rehabilitating former combatants, developing effective security on the border areas, releasing the results of the national census, and conducting a referendum in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent.

The civil war between ethnic African southerners and Sudan's Arab-dominated government in the northern capital Khartoum was separate from the ongoing conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, now in its sixth year. It is also separate from an intermittent 10-year war between the government and rebels from the mountains of eastern Sudan that ended with a peace agreement in 2006.

In addition to calling for implementation of the north-south peace accord, Thursday's resolution also urges all parties to implement «without delay» agreements on Darfur, the eastern Sudan peace deal, and the roadmap to settle the dispute over Abyei.

It also expresses concern for the health and welfare of civilians in Sudan and urges the government to ensure continuity of humanitarian assistance _ a point the U.S., Britain and other council members cited in demanding that the government reverse its expulsion of 13 international aid organizations from Darfur in March.

«The expulsions affect not only the people of Darfur, but the delivery of humanitarian aid across the whole of the country, including in the three areas on the borders between north and south,» Britain's Sawers said, expressing hope that the government will heed the calls from the council to allow the aid groups to return.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled the 13 international aid groups and three local ones after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Al-Bashir accused the aid groups of spying for the tribunal _ charges they denied. There was no mention in the resolution or by council members of al-Bashir or the arrest warrant.

Rice said the United States is also concerned about the deteriorating relations between Chad and Sudan, saying the relationship between the neighbors «affects peace throughout Sudan.» She welcomed talks between the two countries sponsored by Qatar and Libya in Doha «as a positive step forward.

In southern Sudan, dozens of people have been killed in recent tribal clashes in Jonglei State which the U.N. mission said went beyond the cattle raids typical of that region and were now beginning to target civilians.

The resolution «deplores the persistent localized conflict and violence and its effects on civilians, especially within southern Sudan.

The council called on the U.N. mission to strengthen its support for tribal efforts to resolve conflicts and protect civilians, to «pro actively» conduct patrols in areas at high risk of localized conflict,» to help the parties urgently conclude the process of marking the north-south boundary, to help prepare for «credible» national elections in February and be ready to help with the 2011 referendum.

It extended the mission, which includes 10,000 military personnel and police, until April 30, 2010.