U.S. Senator John Kerry visits Sudan ahead of south’s referendum

January 8th, 2011 - 2:08 am ICT by BNO News  

EL FASHER, SUDAN (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Senator John Kerry on Friday led a delegation to North Darfur as part of a visit to the African nation ahead of Sunday’s referendum in regards to South Sudan.

Kerry, who is also the Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, arrived to El Fasher along with seven members of the delegation. They were welcomed by UNAMID (UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur) Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari and other senior officials.

Gambari briefed the U.S. delegation on the latest security and humanitarian developments in the region, including efforts to assist newly displaced populations as well as final preparations for Sunday’s referendum.

The delegation further paid a visit to the governor of North Darfur. Then, they flew to Shangil Tobaya, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of El Fasher, to visit internally displaced people after clashes in the area last December between armed movements and government forces.

UNAMID peacekeepers were recognized for their efforts to preserve peace and stability to the troubled region that just emerged from two decades of war between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south.

“We have great respect for what you’re doing, and we hope that your lives and the lives of the Darfurians and of the Sudanese will change over the course of the next year much more dramatically,” Kerry told peacekeepers.

This is the Senator’s third visit to the country since last October, and the second to Darfur, having been here in April of 2009. He met with both north and south leaders ahead of the key referendum.

On Tuesday, UNAMID announced it finished preparations for the upcoming referendum that will seal the fate of South Sudan. Residents will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country, as part of the final phase of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the civil war.

UNAMID said an estimated 23,000 people have registered to vote in the referendum held in the Darfur states. During the voting, UNAMID will work to ensure the swift transportation of polling materials and the peaceful conclusion of the process.

The UNAMID forces will conducted 105 patrols in 64 villages and camps to ensure that every last voter in South Sudan in the more than four-million-strong electorate will have a chance to vote, no matter how remote and inaccessible the location.

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