His Excellency General Salva Kiir Mayardit, first vice president of Sudan and president of the Government of Southern Sudan, met with international leaders, including President Barack Obama, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week about Sudan’s highly anticipated referenda scheduled for January 2011. In advance of the U.N. meetings, Kiir spoke at the United States Institute of Peace on September 20.

His Excellency General Salva Kiir Mayardit, first vice president of Sudan, met with international leaders, including President Barack Obama, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week about Sudan’s highly anticipated referenda scheduled for January 2011.

In advance of the U.N. meetings, Kiir, the first vice president of Sudan and president of the Government of Southern Sudan, spoke at the United States Institute of Peace on September 20.

In January, a referendum vote will determine whether Northern and Southern Sudan will remain united. On the same day, citizens of the Abyei region will vote whether to retain their special status in Northern Sudan or become part of Bahr el Ghazal State in Southern Sudan. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the North-South civil war, and was meant to develop democratic governance countrywide and help Northern and Southern Sudan to share oil revenues. It also set a timetable for when Southern Sudan could vote on its status, thereby preventing the possibility of postponing the referendum.

“The U.S. and the international community must signal that no delay will be tolerated,” said Kiir, who expressed hope that any unresolved issues can be addressed in the first six-months after the referenda if not sooner.

Kiir discussed current relations between Northern and Southern Sudan, including implementation of the CPA, preparations for the referenda, and the role of the international community in the referenda process. USIP President Richard H. Solomon introduced Kiir, and USIP’s Jon Temin moderated the question and answer session.

“General Kiir’s visit to the U.S. comes at a pivotal time in Sudan’s history with the two referenda scheduled for January and a growing concern about slow preparations for those important events,” Temin said. “General Kiir came to Washington to talk with senior U.S. government officials about the important U.S. role in these processes; those U.S. officials are also meeting with important northern leaders.”

Temin co-authored the Peace Brief “Scenarios for Sudan's Future, Revisited,” which outlines the possibilities of “productively engaging the opposition (armed and unarmed), incorporating marginalized ethnic and tribal groups into power structures, decentralizing authority, more equitably sharing resources, and refraining from supporting armed opposition against rivals are important principles for both parties to adhere to in any recipe for peace and stability.” Temin also wrote the Peace Brief “Negotiating Sudan's Post-Referendum Arrangements” in January 2010, which looked at the referenda and how the international community could best prepare for the post-referendum process in advance.

Kiir said it is important for the international community to continue to keep their eyes on Sudan, as Sudan faces some tough events in the next year. He said President Barack Obama’s agreement to attend the U.N. meeting on Sudan is significant to the international community as well. The international community continues to critique and affirm what is being in Sudan in the move toward the referenda.

“Very important messages are being released today about Sudan,” Kiir said. “These messages are very clear.”

Kiir was one of the founders of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and later became leader of its military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Kiir was re-elected as president of Southern Sudan with 93 percent of the vote in April 2010. He was then appointed as Sudan’s first vice president by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, in accordance CPA and the interim constitution.

At the time of Kiir’s USIP speech, there were a little more than 100 days until the referenda vote. Kiir warned that any delay in the referenda could lead to unneeded violence in both the North and South. He said in the past five years, Sudan’s unity has been the “less attractive option for Southern Sudan” and it is in the best interest of North and South Sudan that a “free, fair and transparent process be put into place” for any transition following the referenda. Kiir said he is concerned the Sudanese president has slowed the preparation process for the referenda but is thankful for international attention to the ongoing negotiations on referenda-related issues.

Kiir said many Northern-Southern issues have yet to be resolved. These issues include the management of oil and other resources, how to handle migration with respect to international humanitarian law, and, if Southern Sudan becomes a separate country following the referenda, whether it will have a new currency. He said although Northern and Southern Sudan currently share oil profits, there are concerns about transparency in the oil sector. He said he is also concerned about Northern-Southern citizenship, the presence of northern troops and militias in Southern Sudan, and the presence of southern troops in Northern Sudan.

“We need to create a sustainable relationship with the North for the long term,” said Kiir. “It’s in both our interest to work together.”

He said allowing the referenda to move forward will make things easier for both the Northern and Southern regions, and although it is unlikely the Northern and Southern Sudan will agree on many things, he is committed to working with Northern Sudan to resolve key issues. Kiir said the civil war was a difficult time for all of Sudan and he does not want to see the country return to civil war or violence.

Kiir also commented on the August 23 decision by the Sudanese government to change the way unrest in Darfur is handled. President al-Bashir officially endorsed the new strategy on September 17. The new Darfur strategy focuses on involving local groups, establishing security and returning civilians to their villages while also establishing development projects. Kiir said similar strategies attempted in Southern Sudan did not work.

In concluding his speech, Kiir called on the international community to invest in Southern Sudan and implement new trade and agricultural relationships. Kiir said he will continue to meet with world leaders to discuss the importance of a peaceful post-referenda process, and he said it is his hope that organizations like USIP will continue to emphasize the need for a peaceful transition following the January 2011 referenda.

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