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Large turnout for South Sudan poll

12 January 2011

by Ed Beavan

THE HISTORIC referendum in southern Sudan, which started on Sunday, has seen peaceful voting across most of the region, except for two violent incidents in the border areas.

The week-long poll could result in the largely Christian south seceding from the mainly Muslim north, and is part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) drawn up in 2005, which ended about 40 years of civil war between the north and the south.

On Monday, clashes were reported in the disputed Abyei region, in which at least 30 people were killed; while on Tuesday, ten south-Sudanese civilians were killed in an ambush near the north-south border.

Apart from these incidents, how­ever, the referendum was reported to be progressing peacefully, and the electoral process was “very well organised”, said Canon Ian Wood­ward, Rector of Bere Regis and vice-chairman of the diocese of Salisbury’s Sudan Link.

Canon Woodward has been acting as an official observer for the All-African Confederation of Churches and the Sudan Council of Churches during the referendum. Speaking on Tuesday from the town of Wau in the West Bahr al Ghazal state, he said that things were “really positive”. “Every­thing seems to be peaceful; we’ve been in six different polling stations in the last three days — some in towns and others in rural areas — and it’s going very well.

“Sunday was the big day, but people were queuing very patiently — some for many hours in the hot sun — but there was a sense of festivity, and the feeling that people are taking part in something that will change their lives.”

In his role as observer, Canon Woodward has been inspecting ballot papers, electoral rolls, and the ink placed on voters’ fingers after the poll. He said that the “process is, as far as I can see, being well adhered to”.

He said that the result would not be announced until early February, after which would come the “big job” of the north and south’s learning to live in peace, if secession is chosen.

The Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, cast his vote on Sunday with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Revd Paulino Lukudu Loro, at a primary school in the city of Juba, capital of southern Sudan.

He said that people in the south had been “waiting 55 years for this day”, adding: “This is the day; this is our time.” Dr Deng said that the referendum was a bridge to a new Sudan.

The Archbishops were accomp­anied by an ecumenical delegation of referendum-observers that included the RC Archbishop of Abuja, in Nigeria, the Most Revd John Onaiyekan.

After voting, the Archbishops and observers met the former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who is also an international observer of the referendum.

A report sent to the diocese of Salisbury from the diocese of Kajo-Keji, in southern Sudan, said that “all was peaceful” in the elections.

The author of the report, Stephen Tomor Kenyi, described the first day of the referendum as “like a celebration — full of happiness that can be seen on people’s faces”. He said that the whole process was “really peaceful”.

“I have never witnessed something like this in Sudan. In the morning of 9 January, the Bishop [of Kajo Keji, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo] and I visited six polling centres, and we witnessed a huge turnout in every centre we visited.”

The diocese of Salisbury welcomed Dr Deng during his trip to the UK in October (News, 8 October 2010), and has set up a prayer wall for the referendum on its website. Some churches in the diocese held prayer vigils on 9 January.

The Archbishop of Canterbury described the referendum as “an immensely important day for Sudan”, and called for people to pray for the country “at this momentous time in its history”. He urged people “to stand with the Sudanese people “to ensure that the referendum takes place peacefully and that the process and results are fully respected”.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign called for south Sudan — if it votes for secession — not to be “born into debt”.

It said that its people in Sudan needed a “fair start, rather than taking on the burden of past unjust debts”, and that any debts it inherits, which are largely from Cold War loans to a previous regime, should be im­mediately cancelled.

On Wednesday, it was announced the 60-per-cent turnout-threshold had been reached: the figure necessary for the vote to go through.

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