Speaking at a Khartoum press conference, panel chair Benjamin Mkapa said he welcomed assurances given by the parties to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement of their commitment to the referenda process, but was deeply concerned about lack of progress on several fronts, less than three months before the Sudanese are due to vote.
Voter registration is yet to begin and the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and Bureau urgently need money to hire and train staff as well as pay for basic equipment and materials.
Mr. Mkapa called on the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan to provide funds so that the commission and bureau can carry out their work.
The three-member panel, which operates independently of the UN Mission in Sudan, travelled to Khartoum and Juba during their five-day visit, meeting with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
They also met with senior officials from both governments, members of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and Bureau, the Chairman as well as Deputy Chairman of the Abyei Administration and representatives of the UN, diplomatic corps, observer groups and civil society.
Mr. Mkapa also expressed deep concern about the situation in Abyei, where a referendum commission is yet to be formed.
Abyei is “crucial for peace and stability in Sudan”, he said. “The situation on the ground there is reported to be very tense. We are aware of the ongoing efforts of the parties to find an acceptable solution. Another round of talks is taking place later this month. It is vital that they succeed.”
The panel is tasked with playing a good offices role to help ensure the successful conduct of two referenda slated for 9 January 2011 -- one in which the people of Southern Sudan will vote for either unity or secession, and another in which the people of the Abyei area will vote to remain in the north or become part of the south.
Mr. Mkapa stressed that the panel is not in place to run the referenda, serve as an observer mission or certify the results. “This is a Sudanese-owned process, and the primary responsibility for ensuring that the referenda are credible lies with the Sudanese themselves.”
A former Tanzanian President, Mr. Mkapa is joined on the panel by António Monteiro, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Portugal, and Bhojraj Pokharel, former Chairman of the Nepalese Election Commission. Their next visit to Sudan is expected to take place in November.