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The United Nations has helped train some 200 anti-riot police officers in southern Sudan, which is preparing for next year's referendum on whether it should secede from the country.

During the three-day course late last month in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, the officers – including 50 women – were trained in crowd control during riots and during peaceful demonstrations taking place before, during and after the plebiscite.

The planned referendum on self-determination in the south is meant to be the final phase of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended a two-decade north-south civil war in the African country.

The training was carried out by instructors from the UN Police (UNPOL) and Major General James Biel, Commander of Upper Nile state for the Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS).

The course “really boosted the morale of the participants,” said UNPOL Sector Commander Borys Yaschuk.

For his part, Mr. Biel voiced optimism that the anti-riot officers will put what they learned into practice. “I hope they will do their duty in a good manner.”

An additional 400 SSPS officers are set to receive referendum security training.

In a related development, dozens of female police officers from both northern and southern Sudanese forces, as well as UNPOL, graduated from a 10-day course on sexual- and gender-based violence at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in the capital, Khartoum.

Using role-playing activities and other interactive tools, the training aimed to help officers prevent and respond to reports of violence. It sought to enhance skills such as report-writing, community policing and problem-solving.

“Now I will be able to conduct interviews related to rape cases,” said Martha Boyoy, a six-year SSPS veteran. “The course was an eye-opener,” said Cecilia Nzozo, a police officer serving with the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, known as UNAMID. “Now it's our duty to deliver.”

Accra / Ghana/ Africa /