Sudan at UN urges debt forgiveness to aid peace

Sudan’s vice president on Monday urged U.N. member states to forgive the debts of Africa’s largest country to strengthen prospects for peace ahead of a referendum on independence for south Sudan.

The International Monetary Fund has said Sudan holds nearly $38 billion of external debt.

The oil-rich nation has long been in arrears to the IMF and the World Bank, which has prevented it from qualifying for debt relief or other financial assistance from the global lenders as it tries to rebuild from the continent’s longest civil war.

Sudan signed a peace deal in 2005 that ended the conflict between the country’s north and south.

“From this rostrum we call for the forgiving of the debts of Sudan according to the same standards applied to the least developed countries,” Vice President Ali Osman Taha of Sudan’s national government in Khartoum told the U.N. General Assembly.

“This will help fight the trend that leads to confrontations and destabilization,” he said.

Taha and the president of the semi-autonomous south, Salva Kiir, vowed last week to work for peace as U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders pressured them to hold a planned referendum on southern independence, scheduled for Jan. 9, peacefully and on time..

Worry is mounting as preparations for the vote, along with another plebiscite on the fate of the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei, fall far behind schedule.

Taha said a declaration of the intention to forgive Sudan’s debts would dispel doubts inside Sudan about the southern referendum and help negotiations between the north and south on post-referendum arrangements.