South Sudan Independence Vote Proceeding Smoothly So Far – UN Officials

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–14 January 2011 – With one day left to go in the historic referendum on the future of Southern Sudan, United Nations officials today voiced their satisfaction at the strong turnout and smooth proceedings witnessed so far during the week-long polls.

“The voting process has one day more to run but so far, from all the reports we have received and what we have seen for ourselves in a number of states, the process has gone remarkably well,” Benjamin Mkapa, Chair of the Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referendums in the Sudan, said in an interview with UN Radio.

Mr. Mkapa and the other two members of the panel – António Monteiro and Bhojraj Pokharel –have been visiting polling centres to monitor the voting process.

“Attendance has been high. Security has been assured but unobtrusive. Ballot papers have been adequate and the results should, I believe, begin coming in early next week,” he stated. “We are satisfied that the process has gone very well.”

The 9 to 15 January vote will determine whether the south remains part of Sudan or chooses independence, and is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running north-south civil war.

Sixty per cent of the nearly 4 million voters registered to take part in the referendum have to vote for the outcome to be valid.

“So far, voting has proceeded smoothly, without major incidents. Turnout has been strong,” noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who congratulated the parties and international partners for their efforts in the lead-up to the referendum.

“The biggest challenge lies before us,” he told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

“We must help all Sudanese, north and south, chart their common future. We must help resolve difficult issues: borders, movements of people, sharing resources, Abyei and more. And we must ensure that all of this takes place within the framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”

Mr. Ban voiced particular concern about the situation in Abyei, which straddles northern and southern Sudan. The area was meant to hold a referendum on whether to join the north or south concurrent with the independence referendum but agreement on some of the details on how to proceed with that vote was not reached in time.

He stressed that it is critical to prevent an escalation of tensions, following recent clashes in the area. “It is important that all concerned – the CPA parties and those on the ground – refrain from unilateral actions and resume discussions on the status of Abyei as soon as possible.”

Preliminary results for the South Sudan referendum are expected to be announced by 2 February and, depending on whether appeals are submitted to courts or not, the final result will be declared on 7 or 14 February.

Mr. Mkapa, whose team is tasked with determining whether the poll is free, fair and credible and ensure that there are “no shenanigans” during the process, said he is not worried about what will happen when the result is announced.

“The leaders of both parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement have said time and again that they will respect the outcome and they have asked the people to accept the outcome whatever it may be. And since there has been such order and tranquillity throughout the polling process, I hope the same will prevail after the announcement of the result.”