Wednesday, January 12, 2011



The New Vision
Kampala, Uganda

A poll worker sits next to ballot boxes at the polling center in Comboni School in Raja, Western Bahr El-Ghazal, during the third day of the referendum over Sudan's independence.

A poll worker sits next to ballot boxes at the polling center in Comboni School in Raja, Western Bahr El-Ghazal, during the third day of the referendum over Sudan's independence.

By Jeremy Clarke

JUBA, Sudan, (Reuters) - More than 60 percent of voters have already taken part in south Sudan's independence referendum, ensuring the result of the vote will be valid, a senior southern official said today.

The announcement came as northern and southern leaders called two crisis meetings to resolve a surge of violence in contested border regions that has marred the plebiscite, which is expected lead to the south declaring independence.

"I know very well that by three days of voting the 60 percent threshold has been passed," Anne Itto, from the south's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told reporters in the southern capital Juba.

The commission organising the vote was not immediately able to confirm on Wednesday that the 60 percent threshold -- the turnout necessary for the referendum to be declared valid -- had been achieved, as the week-long poll entered its fourth day.

More than 50 percent of those who do vote need to choose independence in order for the south to secede.

Preliminary results in the referendum are expected around the beginning of February. The underdeveloped south makes up a quarter of Sudan's land mass but has just 60 km (37 miles) of paved roads.

The referendum was promised in a
2005 accord that ended decades of civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the south, where most follow Christianity and traditional beliefs.

At least 46 deaths have been reported since Friday in clashes between northern Arab nomads and southern police, youths and refugees.

"We will see if they can reach an agreement ... Without hope you can't live," said Deng Arop Kuol, the southern administrator for the contested oil-producing area of Abyei, a flashpoint of past north-south fighting.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday he was "deeply concerned" about the reported violence and senior officials from the United States, Britain and other countries have called for calm.

Some southern leaders have accused the north of arming the nomads to disrupt the referendum in a bid to keep control of the region's oil -- an accusation dismissed by Khartoum.

An underlying cause of the recent fighting has been the unresolved status of the fertile and oil-producing area of Abyei, claimed by both Arab Misseriya nomads and the Dinka Ngok people, associated with the south.

Misseriya and Dinka leaders would meet on Wednesday in Kadugli, the capital of the surrounding state of Southern Kordofan, said Kuol.

"They will talk about the killings ... the cattle taken between the two sides, migration routes, issues of arms that are breeding conflict," he added.

Misseriya leader Mokhtar Babo Nimr told Reuters he would attend the meeting.

On Sunday, a higher level meeting including the Sudan's national and southern interior ministers and regional leaders would discuss the recent deployment of 300 southern police officers in Abyei, seen as one of the major causes of recent fighting, said Kuol.

A U.N. source said the Misseriya had suspected the new police were southern soldiers coming in to claim the region.

Abyei was one of the main battlegrounds in the north-south conflict which, fuelled by clashes over oil and ethnicity, was Africa's longest civil war and killed an estimated 2 million people.

The 2005 accord promised Abyei its own plebiscite on whether it wanted to join the north or the south. That vote was supposed to start on Sunday as well.

But north-south squabbling over who should be allowed to vote in Abyei froze the vote and Deng Arop Kuol said the central issue of who controlled the territory still had to be thrashed out.

Kuol Deng Kuol, the paramount chief of the Dinka Ngok told Reuters he was on his way to the meeting in Kadugli.

"The police deployed because of course there was a worry that there might be fighting," he told Reuters. "I don't think they (the Misseriya) will stop (the attacks) because they are now preparing and approaching the area."