British-printed ballots arrive for Sudan vote

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Ballot papers printed in Britain for an independence referendum on south Sudan arrived in the southern capital on Wednesday despite the weather and transport turmoil in Europe, officials said.

"I confirm the ballots and election materials arrived in Juba," Denis Kadima, head of the UN mission overseeing the referendum, told AFP.

Freight delays and cancellations caused by freezing British "temperatures had delayed their arrival by a few hours, but this will not affect their distribution" across the country, he said.

"From a technical standpoint, we cannot see what could prevent the (referendum) process from going ahead as scheduled on January 9," he said, adding the ballots would be sent to polling stations on the eve of the vote.

The ballot papers were produced by British company Tall Security Print, which won the tender ahead of bidders from Denmark, South Africa and Sudan.

Many southerners had expressed concerns about their delivery in time for the vote from Britain, where heavy snow and thick ice all but closed airports, including London's Heathrow.

A total of 7.5 million ballots were printed for more than three million registered voters. The remaining ballots are to be kept in secure storage.

Southerners are due to vote in a referendum on January 9 on whether to remain united with the north or break away and from their own country.

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

Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania and chair of the UN secretary general's panel on the referendum, said on Wednesday he was confident "a credible referendum can take place."

"Now is not the time to falter. We call on all sides to play their part to ensure that the vote can take place on 9 January as scheduled."

Mkapa said however that key "challenges" still threatened the process, including voter awareness, financing issues and the transparency of the referendum.

"It is essential that all eligible voters understand their obligation to come back to the referendum centres and vote from 9 to 15 January," the UN official said.

"We urge the government authorities to immediately release all pending funds so that the logistical costs and the salaries of referendum staff and security personnel are paid in time so that voting can take place smoothly.

"The way the votes are counted and the results are tabulated is also vital. The results should be released as responsibly as possible so that there can be confidence in the process," said Mkapa.

© 2010 AFP

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