21 September 2010Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he has appointed the three members of a United Nations panel tasked with monitoring the upcoming referenda on the self-determination of Southern Sudan and the Abyei Area. The former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa will head the panel, while former Portuguese foreign minister Antonio Monteiro and former Nepalese election commission chairman Bhojraj Pokharel will serve as the other two members.In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said the panel will make periodic visits to Sudan through the holding of the two referenda, which are both slated to take place on 9 January next year.Inhabitants of the south will vote on whether to secede from Sudan or remain united with the rest of the country. Residents of Abyei, located in the centre of the country, will vote separately on whether to retain Abyei’s special administrative status in the north or become part of the south.“The upcoming referenda are extraordinarily important for the future of Sudan,” today’s statement noted. “The Secretary-General is confident that the panel can play a helpful role in encouraging credible, Sudanese-led processes that reflect the will of the people of Southern Sudan and of the Abyei Area.”Mr. Ban said the panellists will engage “with all relevant actors,” including the referendum commissions, civil society, observers and the two parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending the long-running north-south civil war – the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).The panel has been formed as a result of a direct request from the parties to the CPA.“The panel will follow key referenda processes, as well as the political and security situation. In addition to reporting to the Secretary-General on the conduct of the referenda, the panel will work directly to enhance confidence in the process by encouraging the parties [to the CPA] and the relevant authorities to take corrective measures to resolve any significant problems or disputes that may arise.”The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is already provided technical, logistical and security assistance for the two ballots, but the support being provided through the panel is independent of that.Last week the Security Council and an independent UN human rights expert called on all parties to take steps to ensure that the referenda are staged peacefully and on time.