Juba: Nearly 4 million people in Southern Sudan are registered to vote in an independence referendum to be held Jan. 9, the top election official said Monday.
The electoral body is "100 percent prepared" for the vote and it will be held on time, said Justice Chan Reec Madut. Some observers had worried that South Sudan`s poor infrastructure and political issues might delay the polls.
Most people expect the oil-rich, mainly Christian south will vote for independence from the mainly Muslim north. The two sides fought a bloody civil war that stretched over two decades. Sunday`s vote is the culmination of a peace deal that ended the conflict in 2005.
Just over 3.93 million people have registered to vote, said Madut. Polls will be held in both northern and southern Sudan. Diaspora voting is also taking place in eight countries.
Madut said the distribution of ballots across the Texas-sized south and training of polling staff was almost complete, but access was still a problem in some areas of the south, one of the most underdeveloped places in the world. Despite this, he said, nothing would stop the Southern Sudanese from voting.
"Our people are ready to walk for six hours, eight hours, in order to reach their polling centers," he said.
The main challenge still facing the commission is funding, which Madut said "is not forthcoming from Khartoum." According to the referendum law, Sudan`s national government in Khartoum was supposed to fund the vote with help from the international community.
Madut said he hoped the funding issue might be resolved during Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir`s visit to Juba Tuesday. Al-Bashir is expected to meet with his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir.
Last week al-Bashir said he would be "the first to recognize the south" if voters choose independence in the self-determination vote.
Among the last minute hitches is a hold up in stipends for the police. They have still not received the $24,000 needed to feed 60,000 security personnel who will be stationed across the south for the seven days of polling, said Lt. Gen. Gordon Micah, the deputy head of the south`s police force.
Despite minor problems, the head of the largest domestic referendum monitoring group in the south said he expected the referendum to go smoothly. Edmund Yakani heads the Sudanese Network for Democratic Election, which has deployed 2,800 Sudanese observers in ten states.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Sudan as the leaders of the Carter Center`s delegation of more than 100 international observers of the referendum.