Today, via teleconference, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Khartoum, Bob Whitehead, Juba Consul General Barrie Walkley, and USAID Sudan Mission Director William Hammink gave a press briefing on the status of preparations for the January 9th referendum on Southern Sudan. They also spoke about the support and the technical assistance that the United States has provided to support the parties as they work towards a full and timely implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Mr. Hammink said, "As you may know, the referendum is a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA, which ended the long and deadly North-South civil war. Since the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed that agreement, the U.S. government has provided assistance to the two parties to help implement the various provisions of the CPA as part of our broad goal to maintain peace between the North and the South. This has included assistance in conducting a national census, multiparty national elections -- which took place last April -- popular consultation processes in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, which are in the preparation phase, and now this referendum, which will allow the people of Southern Sudan to choose to remain part of the unified Sudan or to secede and form an independent nation.
"One thing that is very important to stress is that the referendum is a Sudanese-led process. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the SSRC, is the official Sudanese body in charge of implementing the referendum. SSRC Chairman Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil is ably leading the SSRC under challenging conditions of a very short timeline for the steps that have taken place so far and the steps that remain to hold the referendum on time beginning January 9. The timeline is short because we are nearing the end of the CPA interim period. The CPA is set to expire July 9, 2011, and the CPA calls for the referendum to take place six months prior to that end date.
"USAID is supporting the SSRC in Khartoum and its bureau in Juba, the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau -- or SSRB -- in three ways: One, providing technical and material assistance to the SSRC and SSRB to enable them to prepare for, administer, and oversee the referendum process, including providing office space and equipment, voter registration, books and cards, training manuals, and polling kits.
"Two, support for civic participation, including voter education, assistance to local media, reporting on the referendum, and assistance to domestic organizations that are observing the process.
"And three, funding international independent observers. Crucial to USAID's success in moving referendum preparations forward has been its ability to develop close working partnerships, both directly and through its implementation partners with the Sudanese referendum authorities, civil society organizations, and the broader constituency of stakeholders in this historic process, including, of course, the United Nations and other donors.
"...The SSRC and the International Organization for Migration, the IOM, which are working together to organize out-of-country voting in accordance with the Southern Sudan Referendum Act of 2009, have been in discussions about ensuring that Southern Sudanese in the United States have access to registration sites. Out-of-country voting was delayed in Egypt, but we understand that registration in Egypt may begin soon. Registration is scheduled to end December 1, after which the SSRC will publish a preliminary register of voters and then hear objections to the register. The final register of voters will be published on January 4. Then voting is scheduled to take place January 9 to 15.
"We will continue to provide assistance throughout this process, supporting the SSRC and SSRB, to implement a peaceful, on-time referendum that reflects the will of the Southern Sudanese people. We are continuing to educate communities and voters about the process, to assist local media reporting on the process, to support Sudanese organizations observing the process, and to support independent, international observation."
A full transcript of Mr. Hammink's statement is available here.