Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ambassador Princeton Lyman held a special press briefing today at the State Department on the Southern Sudan referendum.
Assistant Secretary Carson said, "...The referendum on Southern Sudan's independence is going extremely well, and we are pleased with the cooperation that we have seen from the leaders on both sides. The polling process is scheduled to last seven days and end on January 15th. Thus far, we are pleased with the high level of turnout and the cooperation of officials in both North and South Sudan.
"The process has been peaceful with only a handful of reported disturbances in Abyei and north of the 1956 North-South border. There is no reported conflict in the areas of Southern Sudan other than in Abyei. Officials from the North and South should be commended for their collaboration and handling of this monumental challenging and historical task.
"As we all know, this referendum is a historic moment for Sudan, for Africa, and for the international community. The people of Southern Sudan are determining whether they will remain a part of a united Sudan or become an independent sovereign state. The referendum marks the last major phase of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the representatives of the Governments of North and South Sudan in January of 2005.
"More critical work needs to be done in the coming months to ensure final implementation of the agreement. Issues related to Abyei, to citizenship, to boundaries, and wealth-sharing remain to be worked out. But the Sudanese Government and people of the South have defied all of their skeptics in coming this far. Just as few days remain before the polls close, and we are hopeful that the Sudanese people will continue their efforts to ensure that the process remains on course. The United States is committed to doing everything possible to ensure that the referendum and the final implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement lead to an outcome in which the Sudanese people can prosper peacefully under a single or under two separate states.
"As many of you are aware, President Obama and his foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, and Special Envoy Scott Gration are putting enormous efforts into supporting the outcome, the successful outcome, and conclusion of the current referendum. They have been aided and assisted by Ambassador Princeton Lyman and more recently Dane -- Ambassador Dane Smith, who is working on the Darfur issue. And I might also say that while we have focused very hard on ensuring the completion of the CPA, we have not taken our eye off of the issue of Darfur."
Ambassador Lyman added: "...I know some of you are quite aware that for some time, people have questioned whether that would be possible, whether it was possible politically or whether it was possible technically. And the fact that it's come off is a credit across the board.
"I'm particularly impressed with the willingness of people in Sudan to make a very tough decision because to contemplate a split of your country and to reach a decision to go ahead with that is a courageous act. Second, I'm impressed with the international community and the role it's played to make it possible for this referendum to take place. The work of the United Nations and its mission in Sudan has been extremely important in providing technical and logistical support for the referendum as well as for security.
"...Now, there has been in Abyei some clashes recently. Abyei is not taking part in the referendum, and nothing in these unfortunate situations is impacting on the referendum. Nevertheless, this is a worrisome situation. Abyei, as you know, was scheduled to have a referendum also to start on January 9th. It was to be a referendum in which the people of Abyei decided whether they wanted to continue to be part of the North, which they are now, or to become part of the South. And there couldn't be -- there was no agreement on voter eligibility; the referendum couldn't be held. This remains an extremely important and sensitive issue to be resolved in the future.
"This is also a historically tense time within Abyei as the migration begins. And because the migration hasn't been fully worked out between the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya, there's a lot of tension on the ground. And some of the violence that we've seen, some of these clashes is a product of that tension. We're pleased that the government, the Ngok Dinka, the SPLM are all working in meetings in Abyei today and tomorrow to resolve these issues, bring things under control, work out the arrangements for this year's migration, et cetera, and hopefully contain the situation. But the long-term resolution of Abyei is obviously a political decision that has to be made.
"Just finally on the atmosphere, I was visiting polling stations in the North -- all very well organized, no problems, no security problems, people walked in and out not feeling any pressures one way or another. Voting has been light in the North, probably as we had suspected. In the South, as you've heard, a lot of people coming to the polls very excited. That's where the bulk of the voters are, and it's gone very well. There has been no problems at all throughout the area.
"We have people and lots and lots of other observers in Southern Sudan. You have observer groups from, of course, the Carter Center, from the EU, from the Arab League, from the Africa Union, from other groups, IGAD, and thousands of domestic observers. We watched in the North -- northern polling stations, as many as ten observers sitting at each station -- more observers, in some cases, than voters coming in and out. But it was a good sign. People were organized. They were eager to make this a success. So the mood in both North and South in the way the voting's going has been very positive."