9 January 2011 - With only one leg to carry him, 71-year-old former soldier William Anei Yom Akot made a three-mile trek to reach a referendum polling centre today in Aweil, Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State.
Defying the town's chilly weather when he arrived, Mr. Akot then joined thousands of Aweil residents waiting to vote in a referendum on the future of Southern Sudan – whether it should remain united with the north or become a separate nation.
"Today I considered myself one of the luckiest persons on earth," said the former Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) member. "I have been waiting to see today's event for a long time and now is the time."
Mr. Akot, who joined the Southern Sudanese rebellion at the end of the 1960s, recalled that the journey to freedom and justice had been full of hurdles and misery. It had cost him his right leg in a 2003 battle between the SPLA and Sudan Armed Forces in Warrap State and injured one of his eyes.
"We have paid in millions of lives and lost everything we had in the past" the ex-soldier said. "Fighting was not our choice but we (were) forced to fight and pay countless sacrifices."
The current and previous governments of Sudan, Mr. Akot said, had been unsuccessful in resolving the country's deep-rooted problems.
"We ... didn't see any peace from the time of Sudanese independence," said Mr. Akot. "There were no changes throughout the south, despite all its resources."
Now was the time for Southern Sudanese to unite and pave the way for peace and stability in the region, the veteran stressed. "We are deciding our future through the referendum ...It is time for our leaders to act as a sun that shines."
The ex-soldier now felt that his long time struggle for freedom had not been in vain. "I feel proud and happy to take part in this process and I hope ... we will have a bright future."