Over 99 pct in Southern Sudan vote for secession

Juba, Jan 30 (AP) Southern Sudan''s referendumcommission said today that more than 99 per cent of voters inthe south opted to secede from the country''s north in a voteheld earlier this month.

The announcement drew cheers from a crowd of thousandsthat gathered in Juba, the dusty capital of what may becomethe world''s newest country.

The weeklong vote, held in early January and widelypraised for being peaceful and for meeting internationalstandards, was a condition of a 2005 peace agreement thatended a north-south civil war that lasted two decades andkilled 2 million people.

The head of the commission''s southern bureau, JusticeChan Reec Madut, said today that voter turnout in the 10states in the south was also 99 per cent. He said only some16,000 voters in the south chose to remain united withnorthern Sudan, while 3.7 million chose to separate.

In northern Sudan, 58 per cent of voters chosesecession, said Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of thereferendum commission. He said some 60 per cent of eligiblevoters participated.

Southern Sudanese voters in eight foreign countriesoverwhelmingly supported secession, he said, with 99 per centsupport for secession among the 97 per cent of voters whoparticipated.

In the United States, he said, more than 99 per centof the 8,500 southerners who cast votes chose secession.

"These results lead to a change of situation," saidKhalil after he read the results. "That change relates only tothe constitutional form of relationship between north andsouth. North and south are drawn together in indissolublegeographic and historic bonds".

Referendum commission officials did not announce anoverall percentage total for all votes cast. The commission''swebsite said that 98.8 per cent of voters chose secession, butnoted that the figure may change.

If the process stays on track, Southern Sudan willbecome the world''s newest country in July. Border demarcation,oil rights and the status of the contested region of Abyeistill have to be negotiated.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon praised the conduct of theelection, but said much still needed to be done.

"We are still very much concerned aboutpost-referendum issues -- border security, citizenship, wealthsharing, demarcation, popular consultations in South Kordofanand Blue Nile States, and most importantly the status ofAbyei," he said while addressing African leaders at an AfricanUnion summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP)

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