Biden reminds Sudan US sees on-time vote as vital
HONOLULU (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden stepped up pressure on Sudan on Friday ahead of its referendum for southern independence that the United States says must be held in peace and on time.
In a telephone call to Sudanese Second Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Biden also expressed concern about violence leading to the January 9 vote and "underscored our ongoing concern about engagement with armed proxies," the White House said in a statement.
Violence has flared before the referendum for the oil-rich south. On Friday opposition party officials said they were beaten and tear-gassed by Sudanese authorities on their way to prayers.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly stressed U.S. commitment to a peaceful vote, which Washington says is vital to preventing north and south Sudan from slipping back into conflict.
Biden urged that the poll, which is likely to split Africa's largest state, be held on time, and "encouraged the Sudanese government to be reassuring and responsible in its messages and policies toward southerners in the north," the White House said.
The referendum on independence for south Sudan was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the south, where most follow traditional beliefs and Christianity.
A successful referendum could bring a conclusion to one of Africa's most bitter conflicts, which has rumbled on since around the time of Sudan's independence in the 1950s.
Obama is currently on a family holiday in Hawaii.