22 December - Wrapping up a three-day visit to Sudan ahead of the southern self-determination referendum, the UN Secretary-General's monitoring panel said it believed a credible poll could take place, although vital challenges remained.
Speaking at a Khartoum press conference, Panel Chair Benjamin Mkapa said that voter awareness was one of them. "It is essential that all eligible voters understand their obligation to come back to the referendum centres and vote from 9 to 15 January."
Many voters lived in remote areas far from referendum centres, the panel chair said, calling for every effort to make it easier for people to reach them.
Financing was another challenge, Mr. Mkapa said. He urged government authorities to immediately release all pending funds so that logistical costs and salaries of referendum staff as well as security personnel were paid in time and voting could take place smoothly.
Also crucial was transparency in the way votes were counted and results tabulated, he said. "The results should be released as responsibly as possible so that there can be confidence in the process. We have called on the SSRC (Southern Sudan Referendum Commission) to clearly communicate to the public how the results of the vote will be tabulated, publicized and finalized."
On the disputed Abyei area, Mr. Mkapa said the panel still had grave concerns. "As the negotiations continue, it is vital that everyone involved shows patience and does their utmost to reach a peaceful and permanent settlement acceptable to all."
He noted that the country was entering the final stages of preparations for the referendum. Voter registration had been completed and the exhibitions and objections period was concluding.
Two important steps remained -- the courts would hear any remaining challenges and the final list of eligible voters would be published, Mr. Mkapa said. These steps were vital for the referendum's success and the panel would be watching closely to see how they were carried out.
The panel would return to Sudan in less than two weeks, ahead of the start of polling, he concluded. "The eyes of the world will be watching this referendum, and we hope that all the hard work that has gone into preparing for it will culminate in a vote that is smooth, transparent and a credit to all."