“It is an honour to chair the Security Council for the first time, for what is the most important event of the United Kingdom’s Presidency this month.
This is a defining moment for Sudan and its people, as they enter the final stages of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is a period of great risk and therefore a situation that the Security Council cannot ignore; but it is also a time of opportunity, and a chance to achieve greater stability in Sudan that the world cannot let go by. It is vital that the international community stands united and steadfast in its support of the CPA.
I am therefore grateful for the outstanding international leadership being provided by President Mbeki, the UN Secretary-General and Special Representative Menkerios and Joint Special Representative Gambari. And I welcome the intense interest shown by all those who have travelled long distances to be present today, and the enthusiasm I have encountered in other Security Council members to hold this meeting.
We are all only too conscious of the tragedy of Sudan’s past: over fifty years of suffering, more than two million people dead and many millions displaced, not only in the South but also in Darfur, where conflict continues; and in eastern Sudan and other marginalised areas of the country.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought the Sudanese parties together in an unprecedented manner. They put aside their differences and ended 40 years of civil war, opening the prospect of a new stage in Sudan’s history. The international community must now come together and support the parties as they work to cement the gains achieved in the last six years.
A stable Sudan will help build security and prosperity in the region. It will mean that Sudan does not again become a base for terrorism, or a source of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. And most importantly, it will help the Sudanese people receive the tangible benefits of peace that have eluded them for so long.
Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development visited Sudan last week. He made clear that the UK is determined to help improve the lives of the Sudanese people. But only if peace is kept and conflict avoided, will development succeed and those lives truly be improved.
We are now in the final stages of preparation for the referenda. As we have heard from the Secretary-General and President Mbeki, there has been progress in recent weeks. I welcome the arrival of the Secretary General’s high level monitoring panel in Khartoum on Sunday to monitor the process so far, and the work of domestic and international observers.
Voter registration began as scheduled yesterday. This is the first of a series of essential steps. Early indications suggest that registration is proceeding in an orderly manner. We must all encourage timely and calm completion of this process.
We have also been encouraged by political talks between the parties over the last few weeks. Good progress is being made. President Mbeki has summarised for us today his invaluable work to bring the parties together to address issues of fundamental and long term importance to both North and South, including citizenship, security arrangements, natural resources, assets and liabilities and the North/South border.
Success depends on the actions of the parties themselves and I welcome the commitments made by both parties: at the High-Level meeting here in New York on 24 September, in the Framework Agreement which President Mbeki is helping to negotiate, and in their statements here today.
In recent weeks, both sides have made concessions and stated their determination to avoid a return to war. I do not underestimate how difficult this process is for the parties. But I do not believe that any of the remaining differences on the key issues cannot be bridged. We will continue strongly to support President Mbeki’s efforts to help the parties reach agreement.
This must include an agreement on Abyei as a matter of urgency. Tensions there are rising. We must ensure that it does not become the flashpoint it has been in the past. I urge the parties to work with the communities on the ground to reassure them that their rights will be protected, whatever political agreement is reached. And I urge both North and South to ensure that their military deployments in the area do not contribute to instability.
The international community must also be ready to support the parties’ work on the long-term issues affecting each side beyond the referendum and whatever its outcome. The UK, with others, has taken a leading role on the handling of Sudan’s international debt. The US has made a series of bold and imaginative offers of early action towards normalisation of its relationship with Khartoum, which we welcome strongly.
The African Union continues to play a vital role in helping the North and South to bridge their differences. The Arab League and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are also making important contributions.
The United Nations, with over 30,000 peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur, the South and along the border, is central to the international community’s work in Sudan. Its role is vital, giving political support to the ongoing negotiations, practical support to the referendum process and protection to civilians. I welcome the UN’s planning to prepare for humanitarian contingencies around the referendum, and I encourage the Sudanese authorities to actively support these preparations.
Much international attention is understandably focused on North/South issues in Sudan. But we must not lose sight of the situation in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have suffered and died. We must work intensively with all parties involved towards a peaceful and inclusive political settlement, addressing the violence and insecurity, including by combating impunity and supporting the peace talks in Doha.
I welcome the role played by the Chief Mediator, Djbril Bassole, and the support of the Government of Qatar. I urge all parties to participate in peace talks to put a definitive end to the misery in Darfur. Access for humanitarian workers and peacekeepers must be improved and kidnappings in Darfur must end.
In the coming months, there will be few greater challenges for the international community, the United Nations and the Security Council than Sudan. What I have heard today from our four distinguished briefers convinces me that there can be peace and stability in Sudan, if the parties commit to peace. They will receive the strong support of the international community if they do so. The UK stands ready to play its part, based on our historic and enduring commitment to all the people of Sudan, to seize the opportunity for the secure future their country deserves.”