6 January 2011 – Voting in the Southern Sudan self-determination referendum is set to begin on time on the morning of 9 January 2011, according to UNMIS Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly.
He congratulated the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) and its Juba-based bureau for the successful registration of over 3.9 million eligible voters on an extremely tight timeline in a politically sensitive environment.
"Thanks to their efforts, the many sceptics who never thought that Southern Sudan would be ready to hold its referendum by next Sunday were proven wrong," said Mr. Gressly, speaking at a press conference in the peacekeeping mission's regional headquarters in Juba.
"The general security situation in Southern Sudan is stable and quiet," he said. "In the last several weeks, several months probably, we have seen the lowest level of insecurity in Southern Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. So far it's been a very conducive environment for registration, and we expect the same to continue for polling."
Mr. Gressly added that ongoing cattle raids in Warrap, Lake and Unity states were not expected to have a significant impact on the referendum polling.
"But any kind of insecurity is a concern. We are working with the state governments concerned and increasing our military patrols in those areas," he said.
UNMIS and the UN Development Programme have been providing extensive logistical and technical support to the SSRC and the bureau for the 9 January poll. "During the six-day period starting on December 30, UNMIS aircraft operated 50 flights to remote locations inaccessible by road to deliver referendum voting materials," Mr. Gressly said.
In addition, UN police advisers have provided referendum security training to over 22,000 members of the Southern Sudan Police Service and instructed 1,448 officers in VIP security and crowd control techniques as well as weapons and tactics.
Mr. Gressly said the UN was pleased to note the signing on 5 January of a cease-fire framework agreement between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the forces of renegade SPLA General George Athor
Since late October, an estimated 143,000 southerners have made their way back from North Sudan to participate in the historic referendum in their native states. Mr. Gressly noted that UN humanitarian and government agencies were working together to ensure the safe return of the returnees to their hometowns and villages.
The 2,638 polling centres in Southern Sudan are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. on 9 January.