KHARTOUM: The largest foreign poll observer mission said on Monday that the secession of south Sudan was "virtually certain" as polling stations wrapped up their counts in a landmark independence vote.
Both the Carter Centre foundation of former US president Jimmy Carter and the European Union observer mission said the week-long referendum had been credible. The Carter Centre said it broadly met international standards.
"Based on early reports of vote counting results, it appears virtually certain that the results will be in favour of secession," the Carter Centre said as polling stations across the south were due to complete their counts.
"Overall, the referendum process to this point has been successful and broadly consistent with international standards," it added.
Partial results from the southern regional capital Juba showed a landslide for partitioning Africa’s largest nation and creating the world’s newest state in July, but the final verdict is not expected before next month after the votes have been collated from across the vast, war-ravaged region.
The European Union observer mission said the vote on separating the mainly Christian, African south from the mainly Arab, Muslim north after five decades of conflict had been "peaceful and credible."
"If I had to summarize the conduct of the referendum, I would say free and peaceful voting took place, with an overwhelming turnout," the EU mission’s chief, Veronique de Keyser, told a Khartoum news conference.
"It is expected that the initial turnout will be significantly in excess of the 60 percent required to validate the referendum," she added.
De Keyser said there had been "only isolated cases of intimidation" by government security officials at polling stations.
US President Barack Obama said the huge turnout had been an "an inspiration to the world and a tribute to the determination of the people and leaders of south Sudan to forge a better future," after a devastating 1983-2005 civil war with the north that claimed an estimated two million lives.
Polling stations across the south were due to complete their counts on Monday, triggering the huge logistical effort of bringing in the ballots to centers in a region that has just 40 kilometers (25 miles) of paved road.
In the southern capital Juba, the first voting centers to post their results all returned huge majorities for breaking away.
At Juba University it was 2,663 votes to 69. In the city’s Hay Malakal neighborhood it was 1,809 to 75.
A UN panel set up to monitor the referendum cautioned that "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."
The UN panel also stressed the importance of the protection of civilians after ambushes of southerners returning from the north for the referendum left at least 10 people dead.
The deaths were part of an upsurge of violence in and around the disputed district of Abyei on the northern border that had been due to hold a plebiscite on its own future alongside the southern referendum. It has been indefinitely postponed.
The south’s internal affairs minister Gier Chuang was to hold talks in the northern town of Kadugli on Monday with Interior Minister Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim and leaders of Abyei’s feuding Ngok Dinka and Misseriya Arabs.
"We have spent so many years bleeding in the bush and losing our close friends and brothers, both north and south will have to think twice about war," Chuang said before heading to the meeting.
Fighting between the Arab nomads and the settled pro-southern farmers has claimed up to 38 lives inside Abyei in the past 10 days and the south has suspended bus convoys for those returning through the area.
UN Sudan humanitarian coordinator Georg Charpentier said on Saturday that the UN-facilitated talks were aimed at building on a previous meeting between the leaders of the two ethnic groups which broke the ice last week.
He said the aim was to "ensure that the flow of return through the south… is done smoothly, and at the same time that the Misseriya — the nomadic groups — can indeed engage as usual, beginning January, in their migratory movement to the south."