INTERVIEW-Europe should engage Sudan, Norway minister says
* Europe should engage Sudan despite Bashir arrest warrant
* Sudan must be foreign policy priority
* Urges Sudan to make haste on independence plebiscite
By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM, June 1 (Reuters) - Europe should engage Sudan as a priority ahead of a southern referendum on independence, despite an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a Norwegian minister said on Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said Norway supported the ICC but that Sudan should be a foreign policy priority for the international community in the run up to the Jan, 9, 2011 southern vote on independence which, if handled badly, would affect the entire continent and beyond.
"I would welcome more European engagement to support this process and avoid letting this ICC issue cripple our political efforts to support a solution to the north-south issue," he told Reuters.
"Peace and justice; are they one or the other? Now we have to pursue peace and support justice, support justice and pursue peace -- we can do both," he said in an interview.
European governments, who strongly support the ICC, have been reluctant to send high-level delegations to engage Khartoum since last year's ICC arrest warrant for Bashir accusing him of war crimes in Darfur, and analysts believe this has led to a lack of focus on the key referendum.
Norway, which this year has pledged $100 million in aid to Sudan, is one of a troika including Britain and Washington who have closely supported Sudan's 2005 north-south peace deal, ending Africa's longest civil war and which gave the south the right to vote on independence in seven months' time.
"Time here is of the essence and we need close political coordination and those who have contributions to make to the two parties who are in charge in the north and the south should stand forward," Stoere said.
"We are approaching a referendum on secession, we could end up with a secession and we could end up with something which will have implications for all of Sudan's neighbours, for Africa and beyond," he added.
The United Nations says Sudan is its largest humanitarian crisis costing $1.9 billion. But Stoere warned the former north- south foes the aid may not last and Oslo expected the governments in north and south to act to stop corruption and mismanagement.
"I also caution because you are faced now with a double trend -- one is the financial crisis which will put pressure on aid budgets ... but the other pressure ... is on the smaller and smaller tolerance of mismanagement and corruption."
"I am making this clear ... be careful because if there are no tangible measures taken against it that can provoke counter forces," he said.
Stoere said Norway, a large oil and gas producer, was offering advice and technical expertise to Sudan to negotiate the share of oil revenues post referendum.
Sudan's around 500,000 barrels per day of crude is mostly located in the south but the oil infrastructure is entirely in the north, whose experts control all aspects of the production.
Some southern officials have said oil revenues, which are shared roughly half-half since 2005, will continue to be shared post referendum, but the north and south have yet to begin talks on what the new sharing arrangements will be.
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