Juba, Sudan (AFP) Jan 6, 2011
Preparations for south Sudan's independence referendum are "on track" with just three days to go before the historic vote, the head of United Nations peacekeepers in the south said on Thursday.
"Everything appears to be on track for the region's 2,638 polling centres, which are scheduled to open at 8 am (0500 GMT) on January 9," said David Gressly, head of the United Nations Mission to Sudan in the south.
"The many sceptics who never thought southern Sudan would be ready to hold its referendum by next Sunday were proven wrong," he told reporters in the regional capital Juba.
Gressly said that violent attacks were running at their lowest level since the 2005 peace agreement that put an end to two decades of civil war between north and south, creating propitious conditions for last month's voter registration and the run-in to the seven days of polling.
"For the last several weeks -- several months probably -- we have seen the lowest level of insecurity in southern Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been signed," he said.
"It has been a very conducive environment for the registration, and we expect the same to continue for the polling period."
South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war with the north, during which an estimated two million people were killed in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources including oil.
Most analysts expect the south to use the referendum, which was a central plank of the 2005 peace deal, to vote to break away and split Africa's largest nation in two.
"The general security situation is currently stable, generally quiet," said Gressly, although he noted that cattle raiders in Lakes state killed 11 people and wounded 25 last Saturday.
North-south tensions have also eased, he said.
In November, the southern army accused the north of wounding four soldiers and two civilians in a helicopter gunship attack, a charge the north denied.
The reported attack followed an earlier bombing raid on the south that the north did admit, although it said the target was Darfuri rebels, not southerners.
Gressly said that the situation had since improved.
"Tensions along the north-south border have eased over the last three weeks," he said.
"Reports of major troop build-ups on either side of the north-south border appear to have been exaggerated."
Arriving in Sudan on Thursday, former US president Jimmy Carter urged Khartoum to accept peacefully the results of the referendum, regardless of its outcome.
"Just accept the decision of the southerners in the referendum peacefully, no matter whether it is to stay part of Sudan or to form a new nation," said the statesman who heads the Carter Centre, one of the main international bodies charged with monitoring the vote.
Gressly said that returnees from the north are arriving back at a rate of some 2,000 a day, noting that 143,000 had returned since the end of October.
Aid agencies warned that the large numbers coming back were stretching communities in the areas they were settling in beyond their limits.
Those returnees are placing a "significant strain on communities that already lack water, food, sanitation and shelter," Melinda Young, Oxfam chief for south Sudan, said in a joint statement with the International Rescue Committee.
IRC south Sudan director Susan Purdin warned that amid all the focus on next week's independence vote, the international community was ignoring the plight of the population of one of the world's poorest regions.
"Amid all the international debate about various scenarios and the referendum's outcome, there has been a stunning lack of attention to the current and long-term protection and humanitarian needs of vulnerable civilians," she said.
"We have an unfolding humanitarian crisis, layered on top of an existing and forsaken one.
"These regions are struggling to recover from the last war," she said.
"They lack basic services, infrastructure, food and the means to protect their civilians, and have little capacity to absorb returnees or displaced populations given the already bleak conditions."
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Sudan braces for secession poll trouble
Juba, Sudan (UPI) Jan 5, 2011
A last-minute softening of the Khartoum government's rhetoric on the prospect of the Christian-led southern Sudan splitting from the Arab Muslim-ruled north has raised hopes that next week's independence referendum will pass peacefully. But both sides have been arming with tanks and other heavy weapons in case trouble erupts because the Texas-sized south, which fought a 21-year civil wa ... read more
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