, WASHINGTON, Oct 5 – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded Tuesday how "difficult" it is dealing with the Sudanese government in Khartoum, three months before a vote on independence for the south.
"It is going to be hard, and it is difficult to deal with Khartoum, try to figure out what they want and how they are intending to go forward," she told US ambassadors and chiefs of mission to African countries gathered in Washington.
"But we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can," the chief US diplomat added.
Sudan on Tuesday set November 14 as the start date for voter registration in a historic vote on independence for the south. Fears however remain over the amount of time left to organize the referendum.
Under a 2005 peace agreement that ended Africa\’s longest-running civil war, the south is to vote on January 9 on whether to become independent or to remain part of a united Sudan.
US President Barack Obama\’s administration has deployed more diplomats to Sudan in what Clinton called "a full court press" aimed at smoothing the way for the referendum.
During a special meeting at the United Nations on September 24, Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon led warnings to Sudan that the vote — which could lead to the breakup of Africa\’s largest nation — must be held on time and without violence.
"The preparations are behind schedule but we think that, through an agreement and rapid action, a successful referendum can still occur on time," Clinton\’s spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters on Tuesday.
Western diplomats have warned that if the vote does not go ahead on schedule, southern leaders might declare independence unilaterally, potentially triggering renewed civil war.