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U.N. Security Council to make Sudan trip next week

From Whitney Hurst, CNN
  • The trip precedes a January referendum on Southern Sudan's independence
  • All 15 member nations on the Security Council will be represented
  • U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice is slated to make the trip

United Nations (CNN) -- Members of the U.N. Security Council will travel to Sudan next week ahead of the January referendum vote for Southern Sudan's independence.

The council members will first stop in Kampala, Uganda, and then travel through Northern and Southern Sudan, as well as Khartoum and the volatile Darfur region.

According to a Security Council diplomat, the 15 members are making the trip at a critical juncture 100 days before the referendum to focus on preparations before the vote.

Council members believe having a timely vote is crucial to maintaining peace between North and South Sudan, said the diplomat, who did not wish to be named.

The 15-member council will not meet with President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for arrest on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant are scheduled to be among those making the trip.

Last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama implored Sudanese officials to fully implement a 2005 peace agreement and move forward with the referendum that could see Sudan split into two nations. He called the stakes "enormous."

The peace agreement ended two decades of violence between the north and the south. The conflict led to the deaths of 2 million people, many from starvation.

The agreement would allow the autonomous southern region -- which holds a majority of the nation's oil -- to secede from the north. Fears that the process would cause more instability in the war-torn nation have sparked concerns among the international community.

Currently, al-Bashir is the president of Sudan, while Salva Kiir serves as the president of the southern region and the nation's vice president. 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.

Analysts say that a failure in Sudan would have ominous implications, with one analyst saying "the worst-case scenario is war."

"Nobody wants war, but both sides are preparing for war," said John Ashworth, a southern Sudan analyst. "There are still major stumbling blocks. We have just over a hundred days to the referendum and virtually nothing is in place."