US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that voters in the Sudan referendum must be allowed to make their choice, free from intimidation and coercion. The much awaited electoral process could see south Sudan split with the north if the electorate votes for a division.
Obama also said in an opinion article for the New York Times, that if it lived up to its obligations under a 2005 peace agreement, the Khartoum government could be removed from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The article was published just before polls opened for seven days of voting in a historic referendum which could see Africa's largest nation split, with the south widely expected to vote for independence.
"Now, the world is watching, united in its determination to make sure that all parties in Sudan live up to their obligations," Obama wrote in the Times. "As the referendum proceeds, voters must be allowed access to polling stations; they must be able to cast their ballots free from intimidation and coercion." "All sides should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric or provocative actions that could raise tensions or prevent voters from expressing their will."
The US leader, who has orchestrated an intense diplomatic effort to ensure the referendum goes ahead on time and without violence, said, all sides must resist prejudging the outcome of the referendum as the ballot is counted. "In the days ahead, leaders from north and south will need to work together to prevent violence and ensure that isolated incidents do not spiral into wider instability."
"Under no circumstance should any side use proxy forces in an effort to gain an advantage while we wait for the final results," Obama said ahead of a referendum following a 50 year civil war which killed two million people. The president also looked to the post-referendum period, which could include a process taking the impoverished south up to a formal declaration of independence and thorny talks over borders, oil resources and water rights.
"If the south chooses independence, the international community, including the United States, will have an interest in ensuring that the two nations that emerge succeed as stable and economically viable neighbors, because their fortunes are linked," Obama wrote. Obama also signaled to the government in the north, under President Omar al-Bashir, that it could expect US incentives for recognizing the result of the referendum and avoiding a violent response to the vote.
"Today, I am repeating my offer to Sudan's leaders -- if you fulfill your obligations and choose peace, there is a path to normal relations with the United States." Obama said that path could include the lifting of economic sanctions and the start of a process to lifting US curbs imposed because Washington sees Khartoum as a state sponsor of terror. "In contrast, those who flout their international obligations will face more pressure and isolation," Obama wrote. "This is the moment when leaders of courage and vision can guide their people to a better day. Those who make the right choice will be remembered by history."