By Bridget Johnson
A month ahead of a heated referendum that could split an African nation, leaders of the Sudan Caucus are urging President Obama to pull out all the stops in guarding against that country's secession vote erupting into new mass killings.
Wracked by more than two decades of bloody civil war between the Muslim north and Christian south, Sudan's 2005 peace agreement included a Jan. 9 referendum to give Southern Sudan the opportunity to split from the north. A widespread fear is the referendum could send the country spiraling back into conflict that could affect the entire region.
Sudan Caucus co-chairmen Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Obama on Thursday asking that he send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Sen. John Danforth to Sudan "as soon as possible" to let leaders there know that the U.S. "will not tolerate anyting less" than full implementation and respect of the peace agreement.
The congressmen reason that Clinton could convey the administration's commitment at the highest level, while Powell and Danforth "have a long and distinguished history when it comes to Sudan," as both were involved in the 2005 peace agreement.
"A cooperative effort now from these three authoritative figures will demonstrate the power of our message," the lawmakers wrote.
The quartet spearheaded a bipartisan letter to Clinton in April expressing concern about Sudan's first national election in nearly 25 years, as well as continuing violence against refugees from the Darfur genocide.
That was followed Sept. 23 by a letter to Obama that included Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) among the signatories, encouraging "the Administration to take additional steps to define its strategy on Sudan, including delineating benchmarks, timelines, and commitments to support both the South and Abyei referenda and post referenda scenarios."
At the United Nations on Sept. 24, Obama urged Khartoum to proceed with and abide by the results of the referendum.
"At this moment, the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance," Obama said. "What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether a people who have endured too much war move towards peace or slip backwards into bloodshed."
The lawmakers are concerned that, without concerted international involvement, the risk of slipping back into bloodshed is unacceptably high.
"Earlier this year, the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, predicted that over the next five years, '... a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan' — more so than any country," the Sudan Caucus leaders wrote. "We must avoid such horrors at all costs."