, WASHINGTON, Dec 23 – US President Barack Obama called Sudan\’s southern leader Wednesday to discuss ongoing peace negotiations and reaffirm US backing for a January 9 referendum on self-determination, the White house said.
During his call with southern leader Salva Kiir, Obama "underscored the United States\’ commitment to a peaceful and on-time referendum on Southern Sudanese self-determination that is just 16 days away," the White House said in a statement.
Sudan\’s largely Christian and animist south is due to vote on whether to remain united with the Muslim north or break away to form an independent country.
The referendum is the key plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that put an end to two decades of civil war between north and south.
Obama also stressed "the importance of Vice President Kiir\’s leadership during this volatile time period in Sudan\’s history," the White House said.
The president "urged Kiir to engage seriously with the National Congress Party in the coming days to resolve the outstanding issues related to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement implementation and take actions to prevent outbreaks of violence," it added.
Analysts predict that southern Sudanese voters will opt for independence, and even senior northern officials are beginning to accept the idea of Africa\’s largest nation being partitioned.
Both sides have been discussing without success since July the key sticking points of future citizenship arrangements, the sharing out of natural resources — oil in particular — security and compliance with international accords, notably on water allocation from the Nile.