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SUDAN: UN REFERENDA PANEL CONCERNED AT LOW VOTER REGISTRATION IN NORTH

By UN
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22 November - Few people from Southern Sudan who live in the north are turning out to enrol as voters for the referenda on the future of the south, the chairperson of the United Nations-appointed panel monitoring the process said today, citing various reasons for the dismal turnout, including lack of awareness and uncertainty.

“In the North, turnout remains extremely low. Many Southern Sudanese appear uninterested or unwilling to register,” said Benjamin Mkapa, the chairperson of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Panel on the Referenda in the Sudan, told reporters in Khartoum at the end of the panel's 10-day visit to the country.

The people of Southern Sudan are scheduled to vote on 9 January on whether the south should secede from the rest of the country, while the final status of Abyei will be determined in a separate vote on the same day, as set out in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended two decades of war between the north and the south.

Mr. Mkapa, a former president of Tanzania, lamented what he said was a lack of public information about voter registration and urged authorities in both southern and northern Sudan, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the media and civil society to publicize the exercise.

He said long distances between homes and registration centres was also discouraging people from registering, adding that the panel had also learned that there was a campaign by some southern leaders to discourage southerners residing in the north from enrolling.

Uncertainty over the future status of southerners in the north was another factor for the low turnout, Mr. Mkapa said.

“It is important that clarity on the post-referendum status of southerners in the North and northerners in the South is reached as soon as possible. Leaders in both the North and the South will also have to make more efforts to reassure people that their safety, property and rights are protected,” he said.

He also urged all parties to tone down rhetoric on the referendum issue so that people can feel secure enough to turn out to register as voters. He said the panel had received, from outside the country, “disturbing reports of intimidation and threats” against the staff of voter registration centres and those attempting to register.

On Abyei, Mr. Mkapa voiced concern that with less than two months remaining before the vote, a referendum commission has still not been established and relations between the Dinka and the Misseriya communities who inhabit the area remain tense.

“We hope that negotiations beginning today under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) will resolve some of the issues separating the parties, and we urge all sides in Abyei not to lose faith and to remember that their problems can be only resolved through peaceful dialogue,” Mr. Mkapa said.

The three-member panel was set up by the Secretary-General in response to a request by the Sudanese Government for a body to help enhance the credibility of the referenda and ensure the acceptance of their results by their constituencies and the international community.

The other members are António Monteiro, a former foreign minister of Portugal, and Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chairman of Nepal's election commission.