16 January 2011The United Nations panel tasked with monitoring the referendum on the future status of Southern Sudan today welcomed yesterday’s conclusion of polling, saying the process was well organized and enabled the people of the region to express their will freely. The United Nations panel tasked with monitoring the referendum on the future status of Southern Sudan today welcomed yesterday’s conclusion of polling, saying the process was well organized and enabled the people of the region to express their will freely. The panel congratulated the people of Sudan for ensuring that the process took place on schedule and proceeded peacefully, giving credit to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) and the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) for overcoming serious time and resource constraints to carry out the referendum successfully. The 9 to 15 January plebiscite will determine whether the south remains part of Sudan or chooses independence, and is part of the process to implement the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of civil war between the north and the south. Sixty per cent of the nearly 4 million voters registered to take part in the referendum have to vote for the outcome to be valid. The Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in the Sudan, headed by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, said that by having the referendum take place as stipulated in the agreement, both parties to the CPA had summoned the courage and political commitment required to ensure that the peace process moves forward. During the week of polling, the panel’s three members visited referendum centres in eight states, and its staff monitored the process in all southern states and across the north. The presence of over 22,000 Sudanese and international observers helped make the process transparent, the members of the panel said, adding that staff at referendum centres “coped admirably with the very high turnout.” “Based on its observations, and those of its staff in the field, as well as from accounts conveyed by various interlocutors in Sudan, the Panel is satisfied that the process allowed the people of Southern Sudan to express their will freely,” the members of the panel said in a statement to the press. They said the process of transmitting the results from nearly 3,000 referendum centres to county and state levels, and then to Southern Sudan’s capital, Juba, and Khartoum, the national capital has started. It will take several weeks before the final, official results are known, they added. “While the Sudanese would want to know the outcome of the referendum quickly, we urge the people of Sudan to be patient and be aware that only the results announced by the referendum authorities are official,” the members of the panel said. They urged Government authorities and the SSRC to make every effort to ensure that all citizens are kept well-informed of the progress towards the final results, and called upon the media and political entities to report on the progress in a responsible manner. “The Panel also stresses the importance of the protection of civilians in the weeks ahead. Southerners living in the North and Northerners living in the South must be able to go about their daily lives in safety and dignity, and the Panel calls on all sides to play their part to ensure the security of the population,” the panel members added. The panel is playing a good offices role on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to strengthen confidence in the Sudanese-led referenda process, and to encourage the parties and relevant authorities to resolve any significant problems or disputes as they emerge. The two other members of the panel are António Monteiro, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal and Bhojraj Pokharel, a former Chairman of the Election Commission of Nepal. Yesterday, Mr. Ban welcomed the end of the polling period and congratulated the people for their patience and peaceful determination to cast their ballots, which, he said, characterized voting over the past week.