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The Monitor's View

After Sudan vote on partition, Obama cannot rest

The US helped quell the deadly conflict in Africa's largest country. After the Jan. 9 referendum on sucession in south Sudan, President Obama can't afford to let fighting resume.

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Any number of players with guns has the potential to turn this tinderbox into a place that might require US intervention. Sudan has also drawn the attention of big names, such as actor George Clooney and singer Alicia Keys, as well as Christian activist groups in the United States.

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One complication for the US is the fact that Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges for his actions in Sudan’s other hot spot, Darfur. Negotiating with such a wanted figure is awkward. Yet the Obama administration has wisely used incentives rather than threats to persuade Bashir to keep the peace process moving along.

The US, for instance, may remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism if Bashir honors the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement mediated between the north and south by the Bush administration. (Sudan was once home to Osama bin Laden.)

Bashir may have only agreed to the 2005 pact after seeing the US invade Afghanistan and Iraq. With the US now more war-averse and money-strapped, he may demand a bushel of diplomatic carrots to make the necessary concessions on the toughest issues of oil sharing and the status of Abyei.

The south, too, needs expert hand-holding by the US during the coming negotiations so as not to force a renewal of the conflict. And if a new country does emerge – one that would be the size of Texas – it must not be allowed to become a failed state with its own internal strife. Many more years of US aid will be required for the landlocked south.

The world has witnessed several messy, violent partitions before: post-British India and later the break-off of Bangladesh from Pakistan; and lately Yugoslavia. Sudan can be different and avoid foreign military intervention if the United States and the West, along with African and Arab states, see the wisdom of separating peoples who never really wanted to be put together when colonial powers carved up Africa. The two parts of Sudan may yet set an example for resolving other ethnic or religious strife in Africa – if they can separate peacefully.

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