1 September 2010 -- The first county referendum base (CRB) constructed by UNMIS was inaugurated on Wednesday in the Western Equatoria State county of Mundri West.
The event drew senior government officials at the regional, state and county levels as well as members of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Bureau and the Western Equatoria State Referendum High Committee.
UNMIS intends to establish a presence in all of Southern Sudan's 79 counties to help monitor the referendum process and provide logistical support and technical advice. The opening of the facility in Mundri West represented the first tangible step in that direction.
In the aftermath of last April's general election, both parties to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement asked UNMIS to assume a more expansive role in the months leading up to the self-determination referenda that are scheduled to take place in Southern Sudan and the Abyei area on 9 January 2011.
Mundri West County Commissioner Samson Arap hailed the opening of the base as the beginning of the referendum process. "The real action has started," he said.
The Government of Southern Sudan's Minister of Cabinet Affairs Kosti Manibe Ngai urged all Southern Sudanese citizens to cooperate with UNMIS in ensuring that successful balloting takes place on the designated date.
Western Equatoria State governor Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro praised the support that UNMIS was providing to the referendum in the south and called on the mission to increase its level of assistance.
UNMIS Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly described the referendum base as emblematic of the mission's commitment to achieve a result in the voting that will be universally recognized.
"Both parties are interested in the UN support in this exercise because the support is important not only to Southern Sudan but to the whole of Sudan," he said. "The mechanics are starting to move forward, and today is symbolic of that."
About a dozen UNMIS staff members will be deployed at the Mundri West base, which consists of six large tents that will house offices and accommodation.
Two UN police advisors will be assigned to the facility to provide election security training to local law enforcement personnel.
Three more referendum bases will soon open in Terekeka County in Central Equatoria State, Koch County in Unity State and Maban County in Upper Nile State.
The pace of construction is expected to accelerate sharply during the months of September and October, according to Mr. Gressly.
"In the coming weeks, construction shall be conducted at 16 sites simultaneously," he said.