The United Nations stands ready to assist the upcoming referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan declares independence from Africa’s largest country, an official with the world body said today, with voter registration set to kick off in two weeks.
People in southern Sudan are set to register at referendum centres throughout the country and abroad to vote on 9 January.
“This exercise, conducted by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission [SSRC], is one of the most important steps in the lead-up to the polling,” Denis Kadima, Director of the UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED), told reporters in Khartoum today.
Over the weekend, more than 3,000 registration kits for distribution in southern Sudan and 840 kits for the north, along with registration books and cards, were handed over to the SSRC and its bureau in Juba, the southern capital.
The UN is helping to transport kits and books from Juba to the capitals of Sudan’s states to train nearly 11,000 referendum centre staff, Mr. Kadima said.
UNIRED’s technical assistance includes designing voter registration forms, developing complaint regulations and designing voter education materials, he added.
“The UN provides logistical support to deliver those items to locations throughout Sudan and in the eight countries where southerners will exercise their right to vote,” the official said, referring to Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.
For its part, the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, known as UNMIS, will deliver these supplies by air to remote and isolated locations, while the joint UN-African Union mission in the Darfur (UNAMID) will transport registration materials from Khartoum to the war-ravaged region’s state capitals.
Security for the delivery of referendum materials will be ensured by the Southern Sudan Police Service in the south and by the Sudan Police in the north. UNMIS police have trained nearly 14,000 police officers in the south between May and October, with preparations for referendum security training in the north under way.
“Informing the Sudanese people and potential voters about the referendum process is another way in which UNIRED is helping to create the conditions for a free, fair and transparent process,” Mr. Kadima said today.
The SSRC voter education materials – including posters, stickers, banners, caps and bags – are being procured with the support from the UN Development Basket Fund, while donors are supporting civil society organizations in carrying out awareness programmes.
“Within its capacity, UNMIS will continue to do its most to ensure that the referendum is held on time and peacefully,” Mr. Kadima said, adding that the upcoming voter registration is one of the most “important milestones” in the referendum process.
On 9 January the inhabitants of southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country, while the residents of the central area of Abyei will vote on whether to be part of the north or the south.
The referenda will be the final phase in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed in 2005 to end two decades of conflict between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the south.
“This peace process is unique in the history of the Sudan and the next few months will be critical for safeguarding the achievements made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in his latest report to the Security Council on Sudan.
“As the Comprehensive Peace Agreement deadline for the referendums approaches, public anticipation and anxiety are building up at an accelerated pace. The events of the next three months will have a profound impact on the future of the Sudan.
“The stakes are undeniably high, as failure to meet the deadline for the referendums prescribed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement could have severe consequences. Notwithstanding the progress made so far, it is imperative that the parties to the Agreement and all relevant authorities redouble their efforts to ensure that they successfully meet the deadline,” he said.