, UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 – Sudan\’s progress on organizing a key referendum in January is "too slow," Norway\’s diplomatic chief warned on Sunday about the vote over whether the south will break off from the rest of the country.
"The major thing about Sudan is that time is short, and that the ninth of January is a target date which we need to understand the full meaning of," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, whose country helped broker a 2005 peace accord that ended the country\’s 22-year war.
"It means that the north and the south have to do their active work of preparing for the post-referendum issues."
On Friday, a high-level meeting on Sudan is due to take place at the United Nations.
South Sudan is expected to vote on whether it will choose independence or remain part of a united Sudan, with many expecting it will opt to split Africa\’s largest nation in two.
A second referendum is expected to be held in Abyei that would choose between the north and south.
The referendums are part of the peace accord between the Sudanese government and former southern rebels that saw the active involvement of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway to end the civil war in which an estimated two million people died.
"If this goes wrong, it will of course have implications far beyond Sudan," said Stoere, stressing the need to work on "key issues" between now and January.
Progress has been "too slow," he added, noting that postponing the vote would send a "very wrong signal."
The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC)\’s work was previously stalled as both southern and northern leaders demanded their candidate take the post, but last month the south relented to allow a northern candidate.
But work has still not been finished on completing the frontiers between the two sides and other major technical preparations. Even the wording of the referendum has not yet been revealed.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has repeatedly promised since being returned to power in April elections that the referendum on southern independence will go ahead in January as scheduled.