IF not much has been seen in London recently of Foreign Secretary William Hague it is probably because Britain holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council during November and this requires the presence of Mr Hague to oversee the work of the Council and to chair and lead its debates.
On Tuesday he introduced the subject of the forthcoming referendum in southern Sudan which will determine whether that huge area should choose autonomy from the North of the country. In his opening remarks he described the referendum as a defining moment for Sudan and its people and a period of great risk. The referendum is due to be held on 9 January but although it has been in preparation for some time there are serious doubts about whether it can be held on a free and fair basis or, indeed, at all. The government in Khartoum is committed in principle to the vote but it does not look with equanimity on the possible loss of Sudan's oil fields which are mostly located in the South.
A civil war lasting 40 years between the mainly Christian and animist South and the Muslim North ended in 2005 but it is in everyone's mind that if the January referendum fails in any way hostilities could be resumed. The United Nations, the United States and Britain are involved on the ground but time is short and the prospects uncertain.