Flow of south Sudanese from north doubles: UNHCR

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The UN refugee agency said on Friday that 120,000 southerners have returned to south Sudan from the north ahead of the referendum on independence, after the flow doubled since mid-December.

"There is an average of 2,000 people crossing into the South each day," the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.

"The number of southerners who are leaving the North ahead of this week's landmark Sudan referendum to return to their ancestral homes in the South has doubled since mid-December and now stands at 120,000" over recent weeks.

On December 21, the agency said 55,000 southerners had returned from the north.

The UNHCR said it expected that many more people would return in the months following the January 9-15 referendum, which will allow southerners to decide on whether to secede or to remain united with the north.

"Many of the returnees who have lived in the north for years say they have left for fear of the unknown and the opportunity to start afresh in their native South," the UN refugee agency said.

The vote is a key plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south that put an end to more than two decades of civil war.

On Thursday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged authorities in Sudan to ensure that intimidation and abuse do not mar the historic vote.

© 2011 AFP

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