Huge turnout at south Sudan’s independence referendum has defied gloomy expectations and is almost guaranteed to reach the 60% of voters needed to make the poll valid, organisers said on Tuesday.
Thousands of people took part in the third day of voting in a referendum expected to see the war-ravaged, oil-producing but poor region emerge as Africa’s newest state.
The largely peaceful vote in the south has been marred by four days of clashes between Arab nomads and southerners in the contested border region of Abyei.
“It is proceeding very, very smoothly. There doesn’t seem to be any fear of not reaching the 60% limit. As a matter of fact we think it will do a lot better than that,” said the chairperson of the vote’s organising commission, Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil.
Khalil, a northern lawyer based in Khartoum, told Reuters some polling centres had already received between a quarter and a half of the voters registered in their district in the first two days of the week-long vote.
‘We would not be able to get the job done’
The referendum was promised in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity.
Under the regulations, the vote needs a 60% turnout to be valid. More than 50% of voters need to choose independence for the south to secede — seen as the most likely outcome.
Final results are due out before February 15 with preliminary figures expected up to two weeks earlier. Around 4-million people signed up to vote in the south and in diaspora communities of southerners in the north and abroad.
The organising commission should have been set up three years ahead of the plebiscite, but wrangling between northern and southern leaders meant its members were sworn in only in July with just months to set up the historic vote.
“There were times when we thought we would not be able to get the job done. But everyone worked hard. If you come and have a look at the commission premises you will find people there all day and practically all night,” said Khalil.
The commission’s deputy head Chan Reek Madut told Reuters high turnouts meant organisers would probably not have to extend the voting period. “Saturday should be the last day (of voting),” he said in the southern capital Juba.
Armed Misseriya Arab tribesmen killed 10 south Sudanese civilians and wounded 18 near the border as they were returning from the north, southern internal affairs minister Gier Chuang said on Tuesday.
“A convoy of returnees coming from the north to the south was ambushed yesterday [Monday] at about 5pm by armed Misseriya. Ten were killed and 18 were wounded,” Chuang told a news conference in the southern regional capital Juba.
“The attackers came in six or seven vehicles with guns,” he said.
The ambush on the border between South Kordofan state in the north and North Bahr al-Ghazal state in the south came as south Sudanese were voting in a week-long referendum on independence which has prompted tens of thousands of them to return from the north.
Chuang called for the Khartoum government to held accountable for the attack by the heavily armed Arab nomad tribe, which was a key auxiliary militia of the northern army during the 1983-2005 civil war and is involved in a continuing conflict with pro-southern Dinka in the disputed border district of Abyei.
“The Misseriya belong to a state and that state has to be held accountable,” he said.
The minister said that the ambush was the only incidence of violence to mar the landmark independence vote as it went into a third day on Tuesday with large crowds again forming outside polling stations before they opened at 8am.
“Otherwise, the security in all of the states of the south remains normal and the south is on track to achieve the objective it has fought for for so many years,” he said.
However, at least 36 people were killed in the second day of voting in clashes between Arab nomads and southerners near Sudan’s north-south border, leaders in the contested Abyei region said.
Sudan denies it will take on South’s death
Khartoum has denied it will take on Sudan’s entire debt to free an independent south of any liabilities, after former United States (US) president Jimmy Carter said he received assurances the north would do so.
Sudan’s foreign ministry “categorically refuted the statements of the former US president Jimmy Carter to CNN … that the president of the republic told him Sudan’s entire indebtedness would be carried by north Sudan”, the official Suna news agency reported late on Monday.
Carter had told the US TV news channel after meeting Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday that the president said the country’s entire external debt of around $38-billion should be assigned to north Sudan. — Reuters, Sapa, AFP