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Special reps brief U.N. Security Council on Sudan

By Evan Buxbaum, CNN
  • Envoy says Darfur remains "tense and volatile," with 447 deaths reported in May
  • Country approaching referendum in 2011
  • Representatives stress need for cooperation to implement peace plan
  • U.S. Ambassador Rice says U.S. strongly supports international efforts for justice in Darfur

United Nations (CNN) -- A quartet of special representatives went before the United Nations Security Council Monday to brief members on political and humanitarian challenges in Sudan -- particularly the war-torn Darfur region -- as the country nears a referendum in early 2011 that could see Africa's largest nation split in two.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki currently serves as the African Union (AU) chairperson for Darfur. He was joined at U.N. Headquarters in New York by U.N. Special Representative Halie Menkerios, joint U.N.-AU envoy Ibrahim Gambari, and chief U.N.-AU mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassole.

Mbeki expressed the necessity for cooperation, allowing the organizations to "coordinate their actions and support one another" in an effort to implement the five-year-old Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

The CPA was signed in 2005 between Southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Northern Sudanese Government in Khartoum. It was supposed to end decades of violent civil war, promising shared oil revenues, democratic governance, and paving the way for the South to vote on secession in January 2011.

UK Ambassador Lyall Grant said the coming months would represent a "defining moment" both for Sudan and for the Security Council. "With over 30,000 peacekeepers on the ground" throughout the country, Grant said the Council "has more invested in Sudan than in any other agenda item."

"There is no greater challenge facing the Security Council over the next 12 months than supporting the parties in securing peace and prosperity for the people of Sudan," he said.

"Sudan is a microcosm of Africa and its stability or instability will have far-reaching implications," said Special Representative Menkerios.

U.N.-AU Representative Gambari explained that parts of Darfur remained "tense and volatile," with 447 deaths reported in May alone. He told Council members that this recent upsurge in violence has created "very serious hindrances to the effective implementation" of his protection mandate, as well as to humanitarian assistance efforts for "those in dire need of such support."

The Oxfam International aid organization released a statement coinciding with the Security Council meeting, saying that international attention has shifted away from Sudan and the Darfur conflict "at a time when it is desperately needed."

"At this week's summit the UN Security Council and Special Envoys must commit to bring these initiatives together and help forge a peace process that is truly inclusive, representative and lasting," said spokesperson Kirsten Hagon in the statement.

Speaking to reporters after the Security Council briefing, Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Mohamad, said recent elections should be seen as "ushering in a new era of democratic transformation in the country and within the process of the CPA implementation."

However, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice disagreed during her remarks before the council.

"With respect to elections, let me reiterate that the April elections were characterized by serious irregularities," including political repression and intimidation by government security forces, she said.

She explained how "the international community stands ready to provide diplomatic and technical support," but only if there are sincere efforts to address the serious and difficult issues facing the country.

Monday's meeting followed a Security Council update Friday from International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, which Rice called "disturbing" during her statements on Monday.

Moreno-Ocampo told Council members that attacks against civilians persist, and "the crime of extermination against millions of displaced into camps continues." He called on the U.N. to produce an updated comprehensive report on the situation in camps and villages "to allow the international community to consider the current extent of the suffering of civilians."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's sitting President, Omar al-Bashir in March 2009 for various war crimes, including "extermination."

"The crime of extermination does not require killing by bullets," Moreno-Ocampo told the Security Council. He said "the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population" also applies.

Although the US is not a member of the Court, Rice said Monday that "the United States strongly supports international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice."