Sudan risks returning to war and poverty unless the international community steps in to ensure that a referendum on independence for the South goes ahead as planned, warned the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said the United Kingdom must use its presidency of the U.N. Security Council next month to press for the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which put an end to more than two decades of civil war and promised the upcoming referendum.
The Anglican leader said the situation in Sudan is "no less critical" in spite of the preparations being made for the referendum on Jan. 9, 2011.
He echoed fears that the vote will lead to new conflict – particularly in the border area of Abyei – and a humanitarian crisis if the estimated four million Southern Sudanese living in the North are forced to leave.
"The threat of open war in and after the referendum period is the most serious thing of all and that signals a return to what have been decades of slaughter and poverty and utter instability in a very large and vulnerable country," Williams stated.
The archbishop said there was a "good opportunity for Britain to show leadership" on Sudan.
"I would like to see and I have confidence I will see our government stepping up to the plate and do the sort of monitoring that is needed in Sudan," added the Church of England cleric.
Williams was joined at Thursday's news conference by the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng.
In his remarks, Deng said much of the preparation work for the referendum, such as the registration of voters and border demarcation, had still not been done.
He further warned that the Southern Sudanese government was not in the position to receive an influx of refugees from the North.
"The people in the North may push the southerners who are there out and that will cause a humanitarian crisis. We want the international community to be ready for that," Deng said.
"We are asking the international community and NGOs to pay close attention to the people of Southern Sudan," he added. "We should not be allowed to go back to war."
According to Deng, the Sudanese Church's priority is to ensure that the CPA concludes peacefully and that people register to vote.
He called for the intervention of the international community to hold political leaders from the North and South to the terms of the agreement and ensure that the referendum was carried out as planned.
"[The CPA] was signed by the international community and the international community has an obligation to make sure that the referendum is done," he concluded. "It should not be allowed to be broken."