Leader urges S. Sudan to forgive amid vote count
By Peter Martell (AFP)
JUBA, Sudan — South Sudan’s president urged his people to forgive the Muslim north for a devastating 1983-2005 war, as partial results trickling in on Sunday from a landmark vote showed a landslide for secession.
In his first public pronouncement since the referendum wrapped up in the mainly Christian region on Saturday, president Salva Kiir joined thousands of faithful in giving thanks for the week-long referendum and praying for their nation-in waiting.
Speaking from the pulpit of Saint Theresa Roman Catholic cathedral in the regional capital Juba, Kiir said: “For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace.
“And may we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths.”
An estimated two million people died in the 22-year civil war, the latest round in five decades of conflict between the south and the mainly Arab north that has blighted Africa’s largest nation.
The week-long independence vote was the centrepiece of the 2005 peace agreement that ended the war.
The southern leader sat smiling in a pew at the front holding a Bible as Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro blessed a mock ballot box at the altar.
“We pray that the will of Sudan will come out,” Lukudu said. “For those doing the counting, don’t mix, don’t cheat, don’t steal.”
A priest had earlier offered a “prayer of gratitude for the peaceful voting of the referendum”.
“We present these votes to God who will bring change through His people of this country,” he told the congregation.
Loudspeaker trucks criss-crossed the dirt tracks of Juba urging south Sudanese to celebrate as partial results posted outside the city’s larger polling stations showed a huge majority for independence.
There was no way of knowing how representative the results were of the vote in Juba, let alone of south Sudan as a whole. Much of the region is remote countryside where illiterate herders range over big distances with their livestock.
The final result to determine whether the south secedes to become the world’s newest country in July is not expected before next month.
But exultant policeman John Gadet proclaimed: “We have done it, we have won, we are free,” as he read the results posted outside the polling station set up by the tomb of veteran rebel leader John Garang, who signed the 2005 agreement shortly before his death.
The station’s D section recorded 3,066 votes for secession to just 25 for union with the north.
Other polling stations in Juba where counting lasted into the night mirrored the result. At Juba University it was 2,663 votes to 69. In the city’s Hay Malakal neighbourhood it was 1,809 to 75.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on the “people and institutions of Sudan to exercise patience and restraint until… the final result.”
A panel he established to monitor the referendum said that based on its observations and those of its staff in the field, it was “satisfied that the process allowed the people of southern Sudan to express their will freely.”
“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,” it said.
The panel stressed 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.”
A senior official of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party said: “The referendum took place in an atmosphere of calm… with a great degree of freedom and fairness.
“It is very clear that the party will accept the result, whether it be for unity or secession,” Rabie Abdul Ati told AFP.
Even Iran, which has enjoyed close relations with Khartoum, said it would seek “respectful relations” with an independent south.
“We will not be happy over the division of a large Islamic country… but if they eventually decide to divide Sudan, we will pursue balanced, respectful relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
Copyright 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.
AFP: The information provided in this product is for personal use only. None of it may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express permission of Agence France-Presse.