The United Nations panel tasked with monitoring the upcoming referenda on self-determination in Sudan has arrived in the country ahead of the start of voter registration for the vote on the status of Southern Sudan.
"Voter registration represents a critical phase in the referenda process, and we will be watching very closely while we are here in Sudan to see how it is carried out," said Benjamin Mkapa, the chair of the three-member panel and a former president of Tanzania.
"We hope that all Southern Sudanese, wherever they live, will be able to turn out in peace and register for the referendum. We know that organizing voter registration has not been easy, given the country's size and the scale of the process, but we remain confident that it can be completed successfully."
Voter registration is scheduled to run from 15 November to 1 December, and will take place at nearly 3,000 sites across the north and south of Sudan, as well as in eight other countries - Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On 9 January the inhabitants of Southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country, as part of the final phase in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended two decades of war between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the south.
A separate referendum is scheduled to take place on the same day in which the residents of the central area of Abyei will vote on whether to be part of the north or the south.
The panel was set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in response to a request by the Sudanese Government for a body to help enhance the credibility of the referenda and ensure the acceptance of their results by their constituencies and the international community.
This is the second visit to Sudan by the panel, which also includes Antonio Monteiro, a former foreign minister of Portugal, and Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chairman of Nepal's election commission.
UN peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, last week assured the CPA partners of the world body's full cooperation as they pursue peace and stability in the vast African nation.
Wrapping up his 7-11 November visit, Mr. Le Roy also highlighted the significance of the upcoming vote and called on everyone involved to ensure a positive outcome to the ongoing high-level political discussions on referenda and post-referenda issues.
Meanwhile, the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the African Union in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region said today that the process towards achieving a comprehensive and inclusive peace, security and development there is now at a delicate stage.
"As events unfold on the future direction and status of Southern Sudan, significant efforts and attention would also be required from all parties engaged in assisting the people of Sudan to tackle the challenges in Darfur," Ibrahim Gambari told a news conference in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
"However, this assistance would only be meaningful and sustainable where the Sudanese stakeholders show leadership and take bold and swift decisions to improve the chances for lasting peace with justice in Darfur," added Mr. Gambari, who heads the joint UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID).
He reported that the Joint Chief Mediator for the Darfur peace process, Djibril Bassole, and the Government of Qatar have achieved considerable progress in the negotiations between the Sudanese Government and the rebel Liberation and Justice Movement.
As part of the process, the mediation team invited representatives of Darfur's civil society, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to the Qatari capital, Doha, to provide their direct input into the peace process.
Mr. Gambari said that, to deepen consultations with the people of Darfur, another round of consultations are being planned inside Darfur, with the support and participation of UNAMID, before the next set of talks between the parties.
He also voiced deep concern at renewed violence between the Sudanese Government and the armed movements, most notably the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW).
"I call upon all parties to refrain from further offensive military action and respect international humanitarian law," said Mr. Gambari. "This includes the need for UNAMID and the humanitarian community to gain unimpeded access to all areas of recent fighting in order to assess the needs of the displaced and war affected population and provide assistance where required."