Sudan

Critical Year for Sudan to Secure Peace or Risk Return to Full Scale Conflict

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January 7, 2010-There is only one year left for Sudanese parties to salvage a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than 20 years of war and requires a pivotal referendum next January on unity or secession for Southern Sudan.

As Sudan marks the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the International Rescue Committee calls for urgent international engagement to keep the precarious deal on track and avert a return to full scale violent conflict, upheaval and humanitarian crisis.

"A great deal hangs on what can be achieved in the next 365 days," says Richard Poole, director of IRC humanitarian aid programs across Southern Sudan. "When the peace deal expires in a year, we must ensure that the chance for long-term peace and development in the region does not die with it."

Under the agreement, a six-year interim period was established during which major reforms and arrangements were to be carried out ahead of a referendum in January 2011. With a year to go, there is still a staggering amount of work to do. Controversial issues surrounding national elections, the census, the sharing of resources and border demarcation need to be resolved. Yet moving the referendum deadline is not an option.

In the meantime, violence in Southern Sudan is escalating. Last year alone, clashes involving northern and southern troops as well as fighting between ethnic groups left more than 2,500 dead and a further 350,000 homeless. IRC field reports indicate that vulnerable women and children are suffering the most.

Southern Sudan is also still struggling to recover from the devastating civil war that destroyed infrastructure and massively set back development. Today, around 1.5 million are dependent on food aid, malnutrition is well above emergency thresholds and less than half the population has access to clean water.

"We're very concerned that the deteriorating humanitarian situation and frustration over lack of progress in the peace deal will exacerbate existing tensions and boil over," says Poole. "It's incredibly dangerous to wait out the clock and let issues reach crisis point."

The IRC says it's urgent that the international community, including Sudan's neighbors, the African Union and the United Nations, provides immediate mediation and support to Sudan's parties to resolve outstanding issues and ensure a safe and credible referendum.

International donors should scale up support for emergency and other humanitarian needs while the United Nations must increase protection for vulnerable civilians.

"There is still time to avert another brutal conflict and secure a hopeful future for the Sudanese people, but they need international support now," Poole says. "A successful referendum, in which the Southern Sudanese determine their own future, is Sudan's best chance for peace."

Notes to Editors: The IRC commissioned a research paper, Decisions and Deadlines, by Sudan expert Edward Thomas, which was published by the Chatham House think-tank today, January 7. The report analyzes key provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including the 2011 referendum, and what the Sudanese parties and the international community must do to realize them and prevent a return to conflict. For a copy of the report or an interview with the author, see media contacts below.

For more information, interviews and visual media from of South Sudan, contact:

Joanne Offer (Nairobi): +254 737 800 028, Joanne.Offer@theIRC.org

Melissa Winkler (New York): +1 212 551 0972, Melissa.Winkler@theIRC.org

Beverley Cohen (London): +44 7775 196 939 Beverley.Cohen@IRCuk.org

About the International Rescue Committee in Sudan: The IRC has been delivering humanitarian aid in Southern Sudan for 20 years. Our teams provide some 350,000 people with life-saving medical care, reproductive health programs, specialized health programs for children under five, education and aid to prevent and respond to violence against women. The IRC formerly supported 800,000 people in Darfur and 1.1 million in North and East Sudan with services including health, water, sanitation, education, women's health, protection and livelihoods. In March 2009, the IRC was one of 13 international agencies expelled from these regions.

Founded in 1933, the International Rescue Committee is a global leader in humanitarian assistance, providing help, hope and opportunity for millions of people affected by conflict in more than 40 countries. For more information, visit www.theIRC.org.