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U.S. warns Sudan, offers incentives ahead of referendum

By Faith Karimi, CNN
  • Sudan will vote on a referendum that may allow the south to split from the rest of the country
  • The Obama administration offers perks, including economic aid and debt relief
  • A special envoy visits Sudan, warns of consequences if there is no progress

(CNN) -- The United States is offering new perks to Sudan to help restore stability in the volatile Darfur region and ensure the nation does not sabotage a referendum that could allow the south to split from the rest of the country.

In a statement, the State Department said it was intesifying efforts for a peaceful transition before the January referendum.

The referendum will determine whether the south should secede from the rest of the war-ravaged nation.

"During this critical period, the Obama administration is intensifying its work to implement its Sudan strategy," the State Department said.

Special envoy Scott Gration took his 20th trip to the region over the weekend to outline a list of incentives to Khartoum.

They include restoring diplomacy between the two nations, economic aid and debt relief, and additional trade and investment.

"While it is up to the political leaders in Sudan to decide whether they are choosing the path of compromise or confrontation, peace or war, the Obama administration is pressing the parties to facilitate the peaceful and on-time conduct of the referenda ... and for the government of Sudan to end the conflict in Darfur," the State Department said.

However, State Department said, Gration's trip was not limited to incentives.

"He also made clear that there are a range of consequences that will be deployed if the situation in Sudan deteriorates or fails to make progress, including additional sanctions," the statement said. It did not provide details on what the consequences were.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of violence between the north and oil-rich south. The conflict led to the deaths of 2 million people, many from starvation.

At stake in the referendum are Sudan's massive oil reserves, found mostly in the south, but still controlled by the government in the north.

However, the north-south divide is not the only concern in Sudan.

A separate deadly conflict occurred in the Darfur region, where government-backed Janjaaweed militias waging a brutal campaign against African tribes have killed hundreds of thousands.

Gration said the Obama administration is working to ensure the referendum vote does not spark any more instability.

In addition to Ambassador Barrie Walkley, the U.S. has dispatched field planners to southern Sudan ahead of the referendum.

President Barack Obama is also expected to attend a U.N. meeting on Sudan on September 24.