South Sudanese warned not to miscarry nascent state

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JUBA: South Sudan leaders warned against premature independence celebrations Tuesday as the slow process of collating the result of last week’s vote ground on amid indications of a landslide.

Information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that any triumphalism about the separation of the mainly Christian, African south from the mainly Arab, Muslim north risked sparking a "miscarriage" for their nascent state.

"The opinion polls indicate that the south will definitely vote for a state of their own but we must still wait for the final result," the minister said.

"Don’t dance and beat drums and celebrate before the baby is born in case there may be a miscarriage."

Benjamin called on southerners to be particularly careful about any crowing in front of northerners still in the south, nearly all of whom were excluded from voting in the referendum by the registration criteria.

"The north Sudanese who are here, these people are here to stay. They have the right as much as you (have) as citizens of Sudan," he said.

Some northern traders and long-term residents remain in the south, along with key technical staff in the region’s oil fields, which account for 80 percent of Sudan’s reserves. But they number far fewer than the hundreds of thousands of southerners in the north.

The south’s ruling party — the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) — has been careful to observe the niceties of the count and not claim victory too soon, as it has basked in foreign poll observers’ endorsement of the credibility of the vote.

"We are happy that the international and local observers have made the observation that the referendum was free, credible and transparent," the SPLM secretary general, Pagan Amum, told AFP on Monday.

"We are waiting for the results to be announced, we don’t want to go to speculation," he said.

Preliminary results announced by the local branch of the referendum commission in one of south’s three main cities, Wau, on Monday showed a 94.27 percent vote for independence.

The branch’s chairman Peter Ricardo Ugali said there had been 74,428 votes for secession in Wau county against just 3,820 — or 4.83 percent — for unity, with small numbers of spoiled or unmarked ballots.

The landslide mirrored partial results posted outside polling stations in regional capital Juba, the larger of which counted into the night after the close of the week-long polling on Saturday.

But the final verdict, which will determine whether south Sudan secures recognition as the world’s newest state in July, is not expected before next month after votes have been collated from across the vast region still ravaged by the devastating 1983-2005 civil war with the north.

The two rural counties of Western Bahr Al-Ghazal state, of which Wau is the capital, have yet to collate the polling station results from their far-flung villages.

"The results of the polls are still being collected and there can be no official result of the referendum at this time," commission deputy chairman Chan Reec told AFP on Monday from boat on the White Nile near the south’s third main city Malakal.

"Preliminary results for the south are expected to be released at the end of January and the final results on February 14," he added.

In Khartoum, the top aide of President Omar Al-Bashir rejected accusations that the north’s ruling National Congress Party had not done enough to push for unity.

"The NCP tried to do everything it could to invest in strengthening strategic ties with the SPLM during the interim period," Nafie Ali Nafie told state television late on Monday, referring to the six-year time frame set by the 2005 peace agreement for the independence vote which is its centerpiece.

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