12 January 2011 – Stressing that ballots must replace bullets, Antonio Monteiro of the UN Secretary General's Panel on the Referenda in Sudan visited four polling centres today in the Northern Bahr El-Ghazal capital of Aweil.
"I hope that everyone...will understand that basically the most important thing now is peace," said the panel member.
Accompanied by State Referendum High Committee Chairperson Yournew Wol Kuot, the former Portuguese foreign minister said he was impressed by the high turnout of voters and the discipline and organization of the referendum process in Southern Sudan.
Mr. Monteiro noted that over 70 per cent of registered voters had already cast their ballots at most of centres he visited, including the Salva Kiir Polling Centre, where 2,018 of the 2,340 voters assigned to that facility had already exercised their franchise by Wednesday.
"The aim of my visit to the field is to see the polling centers, to talk with local authorities, non-governmental organizations, representatives of political parties and with domestic and international observers in order to get a better idea of how the voting is going," he said.
The Secretary-General's panel was appointed last September to give independent assessments of the self-determination referenda scheduled to take place this month in the country's 10 southern states and the disputed Abyei region.
Disagreements between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement over voter eligibility criteria in the Abyei referendum prevented that vote from taking place.
The panel, chaired by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, also includes Bhojraj Pokharel, the former chairman of Nepal's election commission.
During his visit, Mr. Monteiro also met with Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State Governor Gen. Paul Malong and discussed last Tuesday's alleged ambush on a convoy of Southern Sudanese returnees by Misseriya tribesmen in Southern Kordofan State.
Governor Malong assured Mr. Monteiro that the attack would not affect the voting process in his state. "We are for peace and a peaceful conclusion of the referendum," he said.
Mr. Monteiro was scheduled to visit Rumbek on 13 January before returning to Khartoum to meet up with his fellow panelists, who are currently touring other southern states.