Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sudan: UN hails South’s vote for independence, but cautions on tasks ahead

Panel on Referenda visits polling centres in South Sudan on 9 January 2011

UN - The United Nations today hailed the announcement of the official results of South Sudan’s referendum – which showed that an overwhelming majority opted for secession – and called on both sides to agree quickly on a host of issues stemming from the separation and to resolve the future of a disputed area.

Both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the panel he appointed to monitor the referendum urged the sides to reach lasting post-referendum arrangements, building on the momentum generated by the successful holding of a vote that by 9 July will sever a third from what has until now been Africa’s largest country and is widely expected to lead to the creation of the UN’s 193rd member state.

Such issues include border security, citizenship, wealth-sharing, frontier demarcation, and popular consultations in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile – and Abyei, an area straddling northern and southern Sudan, that was due to have voted in a separate but simultaneous referendum on which side it would join. But a referendum commission has yet to be established there, and there is still no agreement on who would be eligible to vote.

“Their work is not over,” Mr. Ban’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan said in a news release. “The Panel calls on the parties to build on the constructive relationship they have developed to quickly reach a lasting agreement on post-referendum arrangements so that the peoples of Northern and Southern Sudan can live together side by side in cooperation, security and dignity.”

Mr. Ban appointed the panel, headed by a former Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa, to monitor January’s week-long vote, a culminating point of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending two decades of civil war between the north and the south that killed some two million people and drove an estimated 4.5 million others from their homes.

In a statement issued today by his spokesperson, hailing the announcement of the results, Mr. Ban said the “peaceful and credible conduct of the referendum is a great achievement for all Sudanese.” The statement went on to call on the international community to assist all Sudanese towards greater stability and development, reiterating the UN commitment to do so.

In its statement, the Secretary-General’s Panel noted recent deadly clashes in Abyei – ”which have only further complicated the situation” – and stressed the continuing importance of the protection of all Sudanese civilians, whether northerners or southerners.

“The Panel believes that the referendum’s outcome reflects the free will of the people of Southern Sudan and that the process as a whole was free, fair and credible,” it said, citing an appropriate environment and security conditions for the free exercise of the right to self-determination, the high degree of transparency, and the extensive participation of civil society organizations.

It noted that the tone of media coverage and public statements from senior government officials improved as the voting neared. “In spite of political uncertainty and some security incidents during the referendum period, and sometimes inadequate efforts to inform voters about their rights and options, the Panel concludes that voters were able to express their will freely,” it said.

The Panel also commended the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission for overcoming numerous challenges to administer the vote successfully, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), the UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division, and international electoral advisers, donors and observer groups for their assistance.

“The Panel congratulates the people of Sudan for their discipline and patience, which ensured the process was peaceful and on schedule,” it said in its statement.

Throughout the referendum period, UNMIS intensified its peacekeeping patrols in Abyei after reports of clashes between Arab nomadic cattle-herders, known as Misseriya and linked to the North, and the Dinka ethnic group linked to the South.

The other two members of the Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan were António Monteiro, a former Portuguese Foreign Minister, and Bhojraj Pokharel, a former Chairman of the Election Commission of Nepal.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which provided ballots and registration kits, voter registration campaigns, logistics, and technical support for the referendum, also hailed the results.

“UNDP is standing by the people of Southern Sudan as they move forward into the next stage of building a strong, stable, and responsive state,” the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, said. “UNDP is working with the government of Southern Sudan to build up core government functions and efficient processes, particularly in the areas of rule of law, security, and public finance.”