President Barack Obama on Thursday chose a retired ambassador to two African countries to be his new special envoy to Sudan, at a time of continued instability in Darfur and as the African nation's southern regions prepare to become an independent country.
Since last August, Princeton Lyman has been a senior adviser to the State Department working on the negotiations between north and south Sudan. He has served as the U.S. ambassador to both Nigeria and South Africa.
Obama said in a statement that Lyman will oversee U.S. support for implementing the 2005 peace agreement that stopped a two-decade civil war in Sudan, ending the separate conflict in the country's western Darfur region and overseeing the creation of an independent Southern Sudan. The vast majority of ballots cast in a January referendum favored separating north and south, and the president previously announced the U.S. will formally recognize Southern Sudan this summer.
"We only have 100 days before July 9, when the south is to become fully independent," Lyman told reporters at the State Department in Washington. "They have a lot of tough issues to negotiate."
Lyman succeeds Scott Gration, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, amid concern that a buildup in military and police near the disputed territory of Abyei could undermine the largely peaceful process toward Southern Sudan's independence.
The 75-year-old diplomat said he would make his first trip as envoy on Saturday by heading to Ethiopia and Sudan for consultations with the north and south. He said the issue of Abyei, a fertile and oil-producing territory that northern cattle herders use to graze their cattle, would be among the toughest to find a compromise.
While Southern Sudan voted in January to become the world's newest country, Abyei's future is still being negotiated and both sides are claiming it. Observers fear the dispute over the territory could re-ignite conflict.
Lyman said forces were heading toward Abyei from both sides, in the form of militia armed with heavier weaponry. He called it a "very tense situation" that was being made more difficult by the political uncertainty and migration concerns.
"Neither side is supposed to have armed forces in Abyei," he said.
Lyman was presented as the new envoy by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stressed that Sudan's government _ designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism _ played a positive role in allowing the January referendum to proceed without the intimidation or coercion of voters.
She praised Khartoum's continuing efforts but said much work needed to be done in Darfur, where a lasting peace between rebel groups and the government has been elusive. She said the Liberation and Justice Movement, Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese government "must engage in direct, face-to-face negotiations and reach a settlement that includes a cease-fire."
"Now is the time for meaningful dialogue that produces concrete results," she said.
Lyman also said the U.S. was concerned about continued violence in Darfur, where some 2 million people remain displaced and living in camps.
He said Sudan was on the path to normalizing relations with the United States after allowing the south's referendum and accepting the results. But the government still has obligations, such as those linked to the fate of Abyei and how it deals with oil revenue, he said.