In an unprecedented show of international will, envoys from the United Nations Security Council touched down for a four-day trip in Sudan to push Sudanese parties toward two peaceful votes on January 9, 2011 and full implementation of the peace agreement that ended the two-decade long North-South civil war. Preparations for the votes—one for southern independence and one to determine the status of contentious border region Abyei—are currently up against time and political deadlock.
The 15-member council arrived to hundreds of people in Juba on Wednesday, who gathered at the airport and along the streets to welcome the international delegation to the capital of what could be Africa’s next state.
In Juba, the envoys sat down with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and senior southern officials in a meeting during which Kiir warned that South Sudan would hold the referendum on its own if the Sudanese government attempted to delay the exercise. In response, northern politicians have cried foul.
The delegation also stopped at a police training academy in Rejaf, just outside of the southern capital, where the U.N. has been training thousands of South Sudanese police who will provide security during the potentially restive vote.
In Darfur, where the envoys arrived Thursday, the reception was much cooler. Hundreds of protestors chanted their support for the ICC-indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and anti-American slogans.
Prior to the trip, Oxfam International issued a statement urging the council to focus its attention on the volatile western region:
With increased international focus on the southern referendum, the crisis in Darfur may not be the main headline in Sudan but it remains one of the biggest crises in the world and far from resolution. It is our hope that during their visit the members of the Security Council will be reminded of the urgent need for a real and sustainable peace in Darfur.
The message was reinforced hours after the delegation landed in the North Darfur capital of El Fasher, when armed men raided a house resided by members of the U.N.-A.U. hybrid peacekeeping, UNAMID. The men kidnapped one member of the peacekeeping force—with a UNAMID vehicle—in an incident that marked the first kidnapping in El-Fasher. For the past year, kidnappings of foreign workers in Darfur have steeply risen.
The Security Council is heading to Khartoum next, and will end its trip on Saturday.
Photo: UNAMID helicopter (AP)