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    U.S. Diplomacy As Sudanese Referendum Looms

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    As the crucial independence referendum in Sudan draws closer, U.S. senator John Kerry met with an aide to the Sudanese President. Washington has offered Khartoum a number of incentives for allowing the referendum to be held peacefully.

    U.S. senator John Kerry met key Sudanese official Dr Nafie Ali Nafie on Wednesday.

    With the referendum on independence for southern Sudan only days away, Kerry praised President Omar el Bashir for his recent positive approach.

    Many fear the referendum will spark a return to the north-south civil war, ending in 2005, in which at least 2 million people were killed.

    However, in a remarkable turnaround on Tuesday, President Bashir met with the candidate for the presidency of an independent southern Sudan, President Kiir.

    [John Kerry, U.S. Senator]:
    "We are particularly encouraged. And I want to congratulate and thank President Bashir for his meeting with President Kiir yesterday, for the comments he made and his New Year speech in which he indicated the directions that his government intends to move in, all this extremely constructive."

    Key issues that remain unresolved include ownership of oil fields in the south, the disputed Abyei region, a disputed border, and questions of citizenship.

    President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. However, he has assured John Kerry that he is committed to avoiding violence.

    [John Kerry, U.S. Senator]:
    "The key that is that both sides are committing to avoid violence and not to allow Abyei or any other issue to be an issue that brings countries or people back to war. That is a very important commitment on every side."

    The referendum is set for January 9.