South Sudan chooses to secede: official results
Close to 99 percent of south Sudanese chose to secede from the north in a landmark 9-15 January referendum, according to the first complete preliminary results announced on Sunday.
Earlier partial results had put the outcome of the vote beyond doubt but official figures were announced publicly for the first time during a ceremony attended by president Salva Kiir in the southern capital Juba.
The discreet leader, who is to steer southern Sudan to statehood in July after overseeing a six-year transition period, said the more than two million victims of the 22-year civil war with the north did not die in vain.
Chan Reec, chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in charge of polling in the south, said a whopping 99.57 percent of those who voted there chose secession.
Turnout in the south stood at 99 percent, with only 16,129 people voting for Africa's largest country to remain united, said Reec, whose announcement was met by cheers from the crowd.
Mohamed Khalil Ibrahim, who chairs the overall referendum commission, said 58 percent of southerners residing in the north and 99 percent of overseas voters chose to break away.
"The results just announced are decisive," he said.
Updated figures published on the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission's website and accounting for 100 percent of ballots cast in both the north and the south gave secession an overwhelming 98.83 percent of the vote.
Kiir paid homage to the victims of the war.
"I want to assure them and their families that these people did not die in vain," he said in front of diplomats and officials at former rebel leader John Garang's mausoleum.
The revered Garang died in a plane crash shortly after signing the January 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of conflict between the black Christian-dominated south and the mainly Arab Muslim north.
The emotional week-long referendum, which saw huge lines of dancing and praying voters form outside polling stations long before dawn on the first day of voting, was the centrepiece of the peace deal.
The ceremony in Juba on Sunday ended in wild dancing to songs celebrating "the promised land."
"We have shown them in the north that we want to be free. We stand a whisker away from independence, so today we dance for our better futures," said James Madut, a student and one of the revellers.
The international community has praised a ballot that allayed fears the defining moment in southern Sudan's history would be marred by violence.
Norwegian Minister of the Environment and Development Erik Solheim, whose country is a member of the troika that sponsored the peace deal, said the southern Sudanese people had "spoken with absolute clarity."
In Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who spearheaded the north's efforts to quash the rebellion during much of the 1983-2005 civil war, has already recognised the prospect of partition.
Earlier this month, he described the south's decision to become the world's 193rd state as "a new beginning" and expressed hope the two countries would enjoy "brotherly" relations, in comments that drew rare praise from Washington.
Kiir reciprocated his "brother" Bashir's declaration of goodwill and said in his speech: "We must stand with him."
The former rebel commander, who is expected at the African Union heads of state summit that opened on Sunday in Addis Ababa, again stressed caution was paramount.
"What did you think I would do here? Declare the independence of southern Sudan? We cannot do that. Let us respect the agreement," Kiir said.
"People must remain patient up until the full independence is declared."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, whose country is another member of the troika, welcomed the announcement of the preliminary results but warned of the bumpy road ahead.
"There remains a huge amount for the Sudanese parties to do before the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and independence of Southern Sudan, on 9 July 2011," he said in a statement.
Khartoum and Juba have ony six months to agree on the demarcation of their border, oil revenue sharing, citizenship and the future of the disputed region of Abyei, among other issues unresolved issues.
© 2011 AFP