UN Security Council meets Southern Sudan police who will protect January independence vote

Thursday, October 7, 2010

S.Sudan police prepare for possibly volatile vote

RAJAF, Sudan — The U.N. Security Council on Thursday watched demonstrations by Southern Sudan’s police force, which is preparing for what officials fear may be a violent independence vote in a region that has already suffered through a debilitating two-decade war.

Police in deep blue camouflage staged an exercise in which they captured a bandit as members of the Security Council watched. Such police work could be badly needed if violence flares during or after the region’s Jan. 9 independence vote.

Southern Sudan is three months from a self-determination referendum that many worry could spark a new war, the reason for the Security Council’s visit. North and south Sudan ended a 21-year civil war in 2005 with the signing of a peace accord — the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA — that guaranteed January’s independence vote.

“We have come to Sudan to underscore that the Security Council and the international community are united in its determination to support the parties to conduct on time, peaceful, and credible referenda consistent with the terms of the CPA,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir told the Security Council during their meeting late Wednesday that it might be necessary for the south to hold a referendum without cooperation from the north if the north delays the vote, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters on Thursday.

“All members of the Security Council are saying that they are united behind pressing both parties to make the necessary preparedness, to tackle the necessary issues, to allow the referenda to take place, on time, be credible,” Grant said.

The oil-rich region of Abyei also holds a referendum on Jan. 9 to decide if it will be in Sudan’s north or south.

The Southern Sudan Police Service is training 5,400 officers to take part in a force that will provide security during the vote.

The U.S. State Department has provided helmets, shields and thick black body armor for the officers, some of whom are studying specialized skills like crowd control, border policing and VIP protection.

When training began in January there were 6,000 police recruits. That number has dropped by 10 percent in part because of the “difficult circumstances” at the training site, said Lt. Gen. Tito Acuil Madut, inspector general of the police. Officers bathe in the Nile River, cook on open fires and live in poor sanitary conditions, he said.

Southern Sudan’s Minister of Internal Affairs Gier Chuang told Rice and other Security Council members that “we need your support in a serious way” ahead of the referendum.

The young officers were in good spirits during the Security Council’s visit.

Anthony Atugo, 21, from the town of Wau, said he felt he was fulfilling his duty to the country by serving in the police.

“I want my country to be in freedom,” he said.

Atugo, like many in Southern Sudan, is ardently pro-independence, though he said he has not received his salary during the past 10 months of his training.

The aid group Oxfam said in a statement that it hopes the Security Council will focus on resolving outstanding issues over the south’s independence vote. Preparations for the vote are well behind schedule. The north-south border hasn’t been demarcated and there is little agreement on who is eligible to vote, Oxfam said.

“The longer uncertainty drags on, the more likely violence could flare up. People here are waiting eagerly for the chance to decide their future and expectations are extremely high,” said Charlotte Scawen, acting head of Oxfam in Southern Sudan.

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