Monday, March 29, 2010

Sudan: UN official in Sudan stresses national ownership of upcoming elections

The new head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reiterated today his call for the national elections to be carried out next month as scheduled, but stressed that any decision to delay should be made entirely by Government officials and the electoral institution.

“Elections need to take place according to timelines subscribed by the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement], and they have to be conducted in a conducive atmosphere to ensure a free and fair process,” said Haile Menkerios today in Khartoum, in his first press conference since becoming the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and head of UNMIS.

“The CPA, however, is an agreement by the two Parties. And should the two Parties decide whether to have the elections on time or should they want to postpone them for a time, it is up to them,” the Special Representative added.

He also told reporters that it was his understanding that the presidency would meet on Tuesday to review a request by political parties for postponement of the elections currently scheduled to take place from 11 to 13 April.

The national elections, the first of their kind in 24 years, are seen as a benchmark in the implementation of the peace agreement, which was signed in 2005 to end the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.

Voters will be able to choose a national president, a southern president, local and national assemblies, and governors.

The next major benchmark in implementation of the CPA would be a referendum next year on southern secession.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Menkerios stressed that the elections are a Sudanese process led by the governments and the National Elections Commission (NEC), with the UN providing only technical assistance and limited logistical support – as mandated by the Security Council – to the authorities staging the ballot.

“The election in all its aspects is a totally nationally owned process,” he said.

UNMIS, in cooperation with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and donors, has provided technical assistance in voter registration through its Electoral Assistance Division, and advice on operational planning.

The UN mission has also been involved in intensive election security training, instructing almost 24,000 police officers, close to 17,000 in the north and over 7,000 in the south.

“While the responsibility to provide security during elections lies with the Governments of National Unity, and the Government of Southern Sudan in its area, our peacekeeping forces will also assist in enhancing security in areas where threats of armed confrontation may exist,” Mr. Menkerios said.

Mr. Menkerios also stressed that the UN does not have a monitoring role in the elections. That role will be filled by various independent observer groups, both international and national, accredited by the NEC that will perform monitoring functions and report accordingly.

When asked what he thought of the decision to print electoral ballots at the National Printing Press in Khartoum, which is being criticized by some opposition activists, Mr. Menkerios said that decision rests solely with the NEC.

As well as UNMIS, the UN is involved in another peacekeeping operation in the country. (UNAMID) is a joint operation with the African Union in Darfur, the western region of Sudan.

Darfurians will also vote in the upcoming elections.

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