(Photo: AP/Pete Muller)
More than 99 percent of Southern Sudanese voted to secede from the north, a referendum official said Sunday in the first official preliminary result announcement.
"The vote for separation was 99.57 percent," said Chan Reek Madut, the deputy head of the commission that organized the referendum, to a crowd in the South’s capital of Juba, according to Reuters.
Voter turnout in the South was 99 percent, Madut said. And over 60 percent of Southern Sudanese living in the north turned out to vote, with 58 percent voting to secede, he stated.
Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, said 99 percent of the Southern Sudanese diaspora in eight nations also voted to secede.
After decades of civil war and ongoing tension between the northern and southern governments, it looks like the south will finally become its own country. The weeklong referendum, which began on Jan. 9, is called for by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended more than two decades of civil war.
Although a peace agreement was signed in 2005, tension between the mainly Arab Muslim North and African Christian and animist South remained high during the six years leading up to the referendum. Many feared that violence would erupt during the weeklong vote, but none occurred.
Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir, who is expected to lead the independent South, has called for Southern Sudanese to forgive the North for the years of violence during the civil war. Some 1.9 million people died during the war between the North and South and more than 500 churches were destroyed in the South.
"For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace,” said Kiir at Catholic Cathedral in Juba on Jan. 16.
"And,” he continued, "may we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths."
Final referendum results are expected to be announced in early February.