FACTBOX-South Sudan's independence referendum
January 9, 2011
Jan 9 (Reuters) - Millions of southern Sudanese begin voting on Sunday in a referendum on whether Africa's largest country will split in two. Here are some facts about the vote.
WHY A REFERENDUM?
Sudan's north-south civil war was Africa's longest-running civil conflict, flaring in 1955. A 2005 peace deal ended the latest phase and promised southerners self-determination through a referendum on independence from the north.
Since then, the northern ruling National Congress Party and the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) have bickered over implementing almost every detail of the 2005 accord and mutual distrust has deepened. Few believe a majority of southerners will vote for unity.
Many southerners believe they are ethnically or religiously distinct from the mostly Arab and Muslim north, and a history of war and slave trading has haunted north-south relations since before independence. Southerners say an economic boom and development has been concentrated in the hands of the northern tribes surrounding Khartoum, while they have been neglected.
WHO CAN VOTE?
According to the referendum commission, anyone who has a parent or ancestor from a southern tribe indigenous to the south can vote. Also anyone who has been permanently resident, or whose parents or grandparents have been in the south since independence on Jan. 1, 1956, can vote.
Southerners whose families left before independence must return south to register and vote. Southerners in the north of Sudan and in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Australia, Britain, the United States, Canada and Egypt can also vote. However, the vague guidelines and decades of inter-marriage and movement of tribes means it may be difficult to verify who is a southerner.
Almost 4 million southerners have registered to vote inside and outside Sudan, organisers said, about 75 percent of those eligible.
HOW WILL IT WORK?
The referendum law states that of those registered, 60 percent need to turn out for the vote to be valid. About 10,800 staff will work in almost 3,000 referendum centres and more than 14,000 police will secure the process in the south. The north has deployed 17,500 police. Voting is due to begin on Jan. 9 and last one week. The 10,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan, separate from a much bigger U.N.-African Union force in the Darfur region, will also help to maintain security. Some 3,000 observers have been accredited to monitor the process in the north and south.
The referendum law should have been passed three years ago and the commission formed immediately after, but commission members took their oath in July 2010, giving them just six months to arrange the vote.
The commission, helped by the international community, has managed to arrange the vote on time in the face of mounting logistical obstacles. However, the schedule laid out by the Referendum Law has been forsaken, leaving the vote vulnerable to legal challenges. Parliament has yet to amend the law. The result should be announced by Feb. 15, 2011, although preliminary results for the south -- the majority of voters -- will be announced on Jan. 31.
The disputed oil-producing Abyei region is supposed to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on whether to join the south or the north. But deep north-south divisions over who will vote and who will plan it mean this referendum may not happen at all.
Most analysts believe Abyei, the site of north-south clashes since 2005, could provoke a more general war if left to fester.
Other areas could include oil fields close to the still disputed border such as Heglig and Unity. Border states Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile could also be flashpoints of violence and both north and south armies have traded accusations of troop build ups along the unmarked border.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Many African nations favour Sudan's unity because they fear the split could fuel secessionist tensions in their own countries. Sudan also marks the continent's Arab north-African and black sub-Saharan divide. Many will see a split as a wider failure to overcome those differences.
Some worry secession could lead to demands for autonomy in Sudan's other regions, including Darfur or the east which have also rebelled against Khartoum, and the country could disintegrate. Others fear if southerners are not given the chance to vote on whether to rule themselves, the north-south civil war, which destabilised much of east Africa, could reignite.
(Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Janet Lawrence)