By UN News
The United Nations panel that monitored the independence referendum in Southern Sudan today hailed the official results showing that an overwhelming majority opted for secession, but cautioned that the two sides now need to build constructive new ties.
“Their work is not over,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan, said in a news release on the results, which will sever a third from what has until now been Africa’s largest country. “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.”
At the same time, the three-member panel urged the two sides to seek a solution as soon as possible to the issue of Abyei, the area straddling northern and southern Sudan, which 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.
The Secretary-General appointed his 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 (CPA) 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.
Mr. Ban and senior UN official have stressed that, beyond Abyei, several major post-referendum issues remain to be solved before the expected the southern Sudan’s independence day on 9 July, including border security, citizenship, wealth sharing, frontier demarcation, and popular consultations in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
In its statement today, the 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.