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Sudan is on the brink, advocacy groups warn

Six months before a referendum that could split Sudan in two, the United States and other countries are doing too little to help prepare for the vote, according to a report issued Wednesday by advocacy groups.

They also warn that if the vote goes badly, there's a risk of civil war resuming.
Most experts believe Southern Sudan will vote to secede in the January 2011 referendum.

"Alarmingly, the current level of preparation is poor" for the referendum, according to the report, which was issued by over two dozen groups, including Refugees International, Save Darfur and the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress.

There is also inadequate organization for a referendum set the same day for Abyei, an oil-rich area near Sudan's north-south border, the report said. Abyei will decide whether to join the south or remain a special administrative region in the north.

"The possibility of holding two free, fair and peaceful referenda in January 2011 is becoming more difficult as each day passes," said the report, "Renewing the Pledge."
One of the biggest unresolved issues is how north and south Sudan would split the country's oil wealth, which is mainly concentrated in the south, the report said. The oil flows out through pipelines in the north.

Getting a fair oil agreement "is arguably the single biggest factor that affects the prospects for peace," the report said.

The referendum on secession was promised in an agreement that ended Africa's longest-running civil war, between Sudan's predominantly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. That 2005 accord was a priority of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

The report issued Wednesday called on the "guarantors" of the peace agreement -- including the African Union, U.S. government and European Union -- to intensify their efforts to prepare for the two referenda, provide technical assistance for the Sudanese oil negotiations and consider finding new resources for the country. It also urged the guarantors to restate publicly and clearly the right of the southern Sudanese to choose independence.

More than 2 million people died during the 22-year Sudanese civil war.

By Mary Beth Sheridan  | July 14, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
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