SECURITY COUNCIL WELCOMES ‘PEACEFUL’ END OF VOTING IN SOUTH SUDAN’S REFERENDUM
18 January - The Security Council today welcomed the conclusion of voting in the referendum for the self-determination of Southern Sudan, describing the voting exercise as “largely peaceful and orderly” while urging both parties to Sudan's peace agreement to respect the outcome of the poll.
The week-long referendum, which ended on 15 January, 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 four million voters registered to take part in the referendum needed to vote for the outcome to be valid, with results expected in early February.
“The members of the Council underline the need for the CPA parties to promote calm, including by providing immediate and ongoing reassurance to people of all nationalities in Sudan, including southerners in the North and northerners in the South, that their rights, safety and property will continue to be respected,” the Council said in a statement, read out to the press by its president for the month of January, Ambassador Ivan Barbalic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Earlier, the Council had held a meeting on Sudan, at which it was briefed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), Haile Menkerios, and, via video-link, the head of the Secretary-General's Panel on the Referenda in Sudan, Benjamin Mkapa, a former Tanzanian president. On Sunday, the panel welcomed the end of polling, saying the process was well organized and enabled the people of the region to express their will freely.
In its statement, the Council commended the leadership shown by the parties to the CPA, as well as the work of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) and the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, and congratulated the support provided by UNMIS throughout the referendum. It added that it looked forward to the SSRC's announcement of the referendum's results.
“The members of the Council call on all parties to respect the outcome of the referendum, and appreciate, in this regard, the commitments made by President Omar al Bashir and by Vice-President Salva Kiir,” the Council said in its statement.
On the issue of Abyei, an area which straddles northern and southern Sudan and which had its own referendum on whether to join the north or south delayed, the Council voiced concern about violence that occurred there during the referendum period as well as the area's future.
“The members reiterate their deep concern about the absence of an agreement on Abyei,” the Council said. “They stress the utmost importance of continued implementation of the CPA and urge the parties to reach quickly an agreement on Abyei and other critical issues, including border demarcation, security arrangements, citizenship, debts, assets, currency and natural resource arrangements.”
Throughout the referendum period, UNMIS intensified its peacekeeping patrols in Abyei after reports of clashes between Arab nomadic cattle-herders, known as Misseriya and linked to the North, and the Dinka ethnic group linked to the South.
In its statement, the Council welcomed the decision by the leaders of the Misseriya and Dinka communities in Abyei to work together to reduce tensions and to resolve outstanding issues. Earlier Tuesday, UNMIS welcomed an agreement on security arrangements in Abyei – concluded on 17 January between delegations from Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan – and said it stands ready to provide all the necessary support.
In his briefing to the Security Council, the Secretary-General's envoy, Haile Menkerios, said the referendum could turn out be the key to lasting peace and stability in Sudan and the region.
While describing the peaceful conclusion of the referendum as a “testament of the commitment of two parties to the agreement they signed six years ago, and an illustration of their strategic decision to uphold the CPA,” Mr. Menkerios noted that the next few months will provide the basis for a transition to the post-CPA environment.
“As with any transition, it will be marked by a degree of uncertainty, considerable expectations and hopes for some, and fears of the new, the unknown for others,” he said, while urging both the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in southern Sudan and the National Congress Party in northern Sudan to continue displaying the statesmanship and political courage they have demonstrated over the past few weeks.
“Whatever the referendum's outcome, both Northern and Southern Sudan will remain multiethnic, multicultural, and multi religious societies – this diversity is always the strength of nations, never their weakness,” Mr. Menkerios said, adding that, “Sudan is on the eve of a new dawn, and it is going to need a heavy dose of encouragement and support from the international community to make sure committed implementation of the CPA signifies a final and definitive break with the past and opens a new era of prosperity and stability for all Sudanese.”
The SSRC will announce preliminary referendum results 2 February. Barring legal challenges, the final results will be declared on 7 February, and in the event of appeals, on 14 February.
In his remarks to the Council meeting, the head of the UN panel tasked with monitoring the referendum, Mr. Mkapa, echoed the panel's reaction on Sunday, noting that his team is satisfied that the referendum process so far has been conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner that allowed the people of Southern Sudan to express their will freely.
“Both parties have given important and unequivocal public assurances about respecting the outcome of the referendum,” Mr. Mkapa said. “The positive momentum achieved can only be sustained by further demonstration of goodwill and political commitment on both sides.”