AGENCIES, Jan 31, 2011, 12.35am IST
JUBA (SUDAN): Southern Sudan’s referendum commission said on Sunday that more than 99% of voters in the south had opted to secede from the country’s north in a vote held earlier this month. The announcement drew cheers from a crowd of thousands that gathered in Juba, the dusty capital of what may become the world’s newest country.
The weeklong vote held in early January was a condition of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a two-decade-long bloody civil war between the black Christian-dominated south and the mainly Arab Muslim north in which two million were killed.
“This is what we voted for, so that people can be free in their own country… I say congratulations a million times,” south Sudan’s president Salva Kiir told the crowd. Kiir, the head of the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, praised his former civil war foe, Sudan’s overall president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for agreeing to the 2005 accord. “Omar al-Bashir took the bold decision to bring peace. Bashir is a champion and we must stand with him,” said Kiir. “The project has not finished… We can not declare independence today. Let us respect the agreement. We must go slowly so we can reach safely to where we are going,” he added.
As per the accord, south Sudan will be able to declare independence on July 9, pending any legal challenges to the results. Border demarcation, oil rights and the status of the contested region of Abyei still have to be negotiated.
The head of the commission’s southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut, said voter turnout in the 10 states in the south was 99%. He said only some 16,000 voters in the south chose to remain united with northern Sudan, while 3.7 million chose to separate.
In northern Sudan, 58% of voters chose secession, said Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of the referendum commission. He said some 60% percent of eligible voters participated. Southern Sudanese voters in eight foreign countries overwhelmingly supported secession, he said, with 99% opting for secession among the 97% of voters who participated. In the United States, he said, more than 99 percent of the 8,500 southerners who cast votes chose secession.
“These results lead to a change of situation,” said Khalil after he read the results. “That change relates only to the constitutional form of relationship between north and south. North and south are drawn together in indissoluble geographic and historic bonds.”
Referendum commission officials did not announce an overall percentage total for all votes cast. The commission’s website said on Sunday that 98.8% of voters chose secession, but noted that the figure may change.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon praised the conduct of the election, but said much still needed to be done. “We are still very much concerned about post-referendum issues — border security, citizenship, wealth sharing, demarcation, popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, and most importantly the status of Abyei,” he said, addressing African leaders at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Kiir appeared to recognize the challenges, saying, “We are still moving forward. The struggle continues.”
That did not stop people from celebrating, though. “I’m very happy because today we have determined our destiny,” said Anna Kaku, 42, who dressed up for the ceremony and joined the spontaneous dancing that followed Kiir’s address. “We fought for so many years, and now we have done this peacefully.”
Student Santino Anei, 19, said, “I am so happy. Imagine having schools, no fear, no war. Imagine feeling like any other people in their own country. At least now we feel this is our own land.”