16 January 2011 – Counting of ballot papers for Southern Sudan's self-determination referendum began across the country immediately after balloting closed yesterdayevening.
African observer missions commended the national commission for the conduct of the referendum, which was prescribed by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two-decade north-south civil war.
Counting of ballots kicked off as early as seven p.m. in various locations, including the Marol polling center of Bor, Jonglei State, located in the Episcopal compound close to the city's power house and main market.
The general mood was quiet as referendum staff and local observers crowded into the church building lit by State High Referendum Committee-provided lamps, while the market carried on with its activity.
Some shops belonging to northerners were still shut, however, as owners had left for North Sudan due to uncertainties about the post-referendum period.
In the regional capital of Juba, polling officials opened the first ballot box at 8.20 p.m. last night in the presence of local and international observers and the glare of media cameras at the John Garang Mausoleum Polling Centre.
Earlier in the day, Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) Chairman Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil at a Juba press conference said that turnout had been very satisfactory. It had surpassed 60 per cent of total registered voters, which was needed for a valid referendum.
According to the SSRC, 83 per cent of the 3.76 million voters registered in the south had voted by 14 January. By the same date, 91 per cent of 60,000 registered voters in eight out-of-country locations and 53 per cent of some 116,850 registered in the north had cast their ballots.
"When we begun this process, we had just over four months to complete a task which was envisaged to take 42 months. This is a good result by any international standards," Mr. Khalil said.
Both the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) observer missions commended the national commission for successful conduct of the referendum, and declared the process free and fair on 16 January.
"The SSRC staff were competent, professional, courteous, and doing their work with a lot of commitments to ensure the process is not flawed," the IGAD statement said, noting the observers did not witness any cases of ballot paper mix ups for different polling centres or late arrival of materials, as had occurred during last April's national elections.
According to the statement, the AU mission was "impressed with the level of preparedness, conduct, and logistical arrangements put in place by the SSRC". It also emphasized the good practice of providing assistance to physically and visually impaired voters.
Due to the massive deployment of police, military, and security intelligence at polling centres, the exercise was conducted peacefully, the AU statement noted. However, a few incidents of violence and deaths were reported in border regions during the referendum.
While calling on stakeholders to show restraint until the final results are announced, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today congratulated the Sudanese people "for the display of wisdom, patience, and peaceful determination that has characterized the voting over the last week".
Final referendum results will be announced by 7 February if there are no appeals.
Overseas voting in Brisbane, Australia, has been extended by five days due to flooding in the region.