[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/08/art.hillaryclinton0108.gi.jpg caption="Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Friday that violence is on the rise in Sudan."]Washington (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Friday that violence is rising in Sudan, where human suffering in Darfur continues "on a mass scale."
Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Clinton said Sudan is "at a critical juncture." While the ceasefire between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group has mostly held, "threats to progress are real," she said.
"The parties in Sudan have a choice," Clinton said. "They can revert back to a dark era of conflict or they can move forward together toward a lasting peace."
In April, Sudan will hold its first national elections in 24 years. Less than a year later the people of southern Sudan will vote on whether to break off and form an independent country.
Clinton called on all parties to work to ensure that those elections take place "on time with their outcomes respected." She said Norway and Britain have pledged to cooperate with the United States in achieving the goal.
The secretary said she tracked ethnic and tribal violence in southern Sudan through 2009 and is concerned about the deaths of more than 2,500 people and displacement of more than 350,000.
The U.S. government continues to push the Sudanese government and rebels to allow aid agencies access to Darfur, she said.
Retired Gen. Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, told reporters his focus is security. "I believe if we can fix the security - the lawlessness, the banditry, the carjackings, the hijackings - if we can get that kind of thing taken care of, the rest of the issues that deal with humanitarian access, eventual voluntary return and the other issues looming out there can be taken care of.
"It cannot be taken care of with the current situation where local rule of law is not sufficient and local criminal elements rule the day."