The United Nations has delivered ballots for more than 4 million voters in Southern Sudan for next month`s independence referendum, culminating a six-year peace process that ended two decades of civil war between the north and south.
Each ballot carries two pictures: one hand, signifying independence, and two hands, standing for unity.
Bad weather in Europe threatened to delay delivery of the ballots, printed in the United Kingdom, for the 9-15 January vote, but they arrived on schedule in Juba, Southern Sudan`s capital, last week and were handed over to local referendum authorities by the UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED), formed jointly by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
We are very pleased that UNDP has been able to deliver such a major component of the referendum on schedule, especially given the compressed timeframe for delivery and logistical challenges, " UNDP Deputy Head in Southern Sudan George Conway said.
Ballots were also delivered in Khartoum, Sudan`s capital, for southerners living in the north.
Just a few months ago, not many would have predicted that we would be standing here today handing over the referendum polling material, " UNIRED Director Denis Kadima said. We are here not only to symbolically hand over the ballots and other materials, but to acknowledge the magnitude of work that you and the members and staff of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission have accomplished. "
Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau chairman Chan Reec Madut thanked international donors who gave $58 million to a UN fund to finance the referendum and hailed the logistical support and technical advice provided by the UN and other international partners.
In addition to the procurement of ballots, UNDP has helped set up 3,000 polling stations and register millions of voters in Sudan and eight other countries.
UNIRED Deputy Director Eamon O`Mordha hailed the recent completion of registration as a tremendous achievement " and congratulated the Southern authorities for its successful implementation despite the extremely tight timeline.
The most important group in the referendum process are the voters themselves, and it is with the ballot papers where the voters make their own individual choice, " he said. I am happy to say that all the materials and plans are in place to meet the goal of a timely start to the referendum. "
With UNDP assistance, two independent domestic observers will be placed at each polling station to monitor voting and counting in the week-long referendum. To improve security the agency has helped train 20,000 police officers. More than 10,000 polling station officers are currently enrolled in training programmes on managing the referendum centres and conducting a transparent and efficient voting process.
UNDP has also helped to set up data centres where the votes will be counted, and will provide satellite telephones to convey results to data centres from remote referendum stations, which lack other means of communication.