Southern Sudan Referendum Results: 99 Percent Favor Secession

Southern Sudanese celebrate the announcement of preliminary referendum results in the southern capital of Juba, January 30, 2011.

Sudanese officials say preliminary results from southern Sudan’s referendum two weeks ago show more than 99 percent of voters in the south want to separate from the north. Results posted on the referendum commission’s official web site say when votes from the north and abroad are included, more than 98 percent want independence.

Several-thousand people gathered Sunday under a hot sun to hear the head of the Referendum Commission in southern Sudan, Chan Reec Madut, tell them that of the 3.8-million people who voted in the south, only 16,000 want to remain part of Sudan.

"Those who voted for separation in southern Sudan were 3,697,467. And the percentage is 99.57 percent."

The head of the regional government here, Sudanese Vice-President Salva Kiir, praised the referendum as peaceful and orderly.

Speaking in Arabic and English, he urged southern Sudanese to be patient until the independent state is declared in six months as required by a six year-old peace agreement.

"What did you think I would do here? I would declare the independence of southern Sudan? But we cannot do that. Let us respect the agreement. We go slowly so that we reach safely where we are going."

He recalled past injustices against southern Sudanese, but urged them to avoid the same prejudices, pledging freedom and respect for all communities and religions.

Mr. Kiir also praised Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for supporting the decision of the southern Sudanese people and pledged to stand by him.

The remarks came as hundreds of students demonstrated in Khartoum against the Bashir government, protesting authoritarianism and high food prices.

But in Juba the mood was one of celebration.

One of the participants, health worker Thomas Obulejo, said people were excited because after more than 50 years they felt they had gained their freedom.

"We have been oppressed for quite a long time. We did not have rights. Our rights were always denied. We had been staying in own country as slaves, no education, no health centers, no nothing."

A mining technician in the Energy Ministry, Mathew Akuei, said decades of neglect and civil war had left desolate legacy. But he said one immediate problem is the high prices caused by a lack of infrastructure and the departure of many merchants.

"The prices are not good now in the market. There is no good road. There is no good market for where we are selling the food. Everything is expensive. This is the problem we are enduring these days."

During the next six months the north and south must negotiate many details of the separation, including border demarcation, oil rights and the status of the Abyie region.

But many believe the time now is for celebrating.

The final results are due to be officially announced next week.