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UN neutral in next year’s southern Sudan referendum, Ban stresses

By UN

2 February - The United Nations has taken no position on next year's referendum on independence for southern Sudan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored today as he refuted recent media reports to the contrary.

“The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to 'make unity attractive' as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

Mr. Ban has also stressed that the world body will endeavour to avoid any “potential negative consequences” following the referendum.

Next year's vote is among the key milestones of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the pact between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) that ended the long-running north-south civil war.

“Any suggestion that the United Nations may have taken a position that may pre-judge the outcome of such a referendum is incorrect,” today's statement emphasized.

Nearly 17 million people across the country are estimated to register to vote in elections in April, the first multi-party democratic ballot for decades.

On top of the referendum on Southern Sudan, next year will also witness a referendum on the future of the disputed oil-rich area of Abyei. Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague shifted some of the borders of Abyei, leaving control of the Heglig oil field with the national Government in Khartoum.

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General told the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that “time is of the essence” for Sudan in light of the elections and referenda scheduled in the near future.