Southern Sudan Voters Remember Long Civil War

In Southern Sudan, voters are registering to cast ballots in a January referendum that could see Africa's largest country split into two. Many people in the southern part of the country plan to vote for independence from the north. They have vivid memories of a civil war that left an estimated 2 million people dead.

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We've been reporting this week on preparations for a referendum that could create a new nation in Africa. Voter registration kicked off yesterday in Southern Sudan. Many people plan to vote for independence from the north. They would form the new nation. They have vivid memories of a civil war that left an estimated two million people dead. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt.

FRANK LANGFITT: Im standing in a dusty courtyard at Juba University, beneath a shade tree here in southern Sudan. And there are a bunch of people, probably about 25, 30 people lined up to register to vote for a referendum in January. And the decision will be whether to take Africas largest country and split it in two.

Among those waiting to register.

Mr. MARKO BOL TONG: Marko Bol Tong.

LANGFITT: Tong, a high-school student, is spelling out his name to the registrar.�He presses his�thumb on an ink pad and then on his registration card. Tong was among the first to show up this morning. His father was a captain with the southern rebel forces and fought the north during the civil war. Tong says, for him, the referendum vote is deeply personal.

TONG: My father was in army and he was killed in 2001. And he was shot dead. At that time, I was 12 years old. When you don't have your father, it will affect your life.

LANGFITT: Without his father's income, Tong says he couldn't attend classes. At 21, he's still in his junior year of high school.

TONG: I really miss my father. And If possible, I'm going to vote for separation. I'm going to vote because I don't need my children to suffer like me.

LANGFITT: The Sudanese Civil War was Africa's longest. It was fought over issues like religion, resources and ideology. In 2005, Sudan's animist and Christian south negotiated peace with the Arab north. The referendum January 9th is the culmination of that agreement.

Voters went to more than 2600 registration sites across Sudan yesterday. In some places in Juba, registration seemed to take forever.

Mr. MEL GARANG(ph) (Hotel Manager): The line is going very slow. It's too slow.

LANGFITT: Mel Garang runs a hotel in town. He took off from work to register. Garang has been here for more than an hour. But he says he's staying until he gets his registration card.

Mr. GARANG: There is no way. Even if it's here 10 days, we will stand. You know, we are not going anywhere, because this is our only chance and it is a golden chance for us.

LANGFITT: Registration was slow because only one person was allowed to register people per center. Otherwise, registration standards aren't very stringent. People are supposed to provide some official I.D. to prove who they are. But in a country that went through two decades of civil war, documentation can be hard to come by. People can use United Nation's refugee documents. Or a community leader at the registration center can identify people by sight.

Mr. DUKU Francis(ph) (Chairman of a Registration Center): I'm Duku Francis, the chairperson of this center.

LANGFITT: But Francis said using someone to identify local people has limits.

Mr. FRANCIS: You're supposed to have an identifier. And at the moment, the subcommittee, the referral subcommittee hasn't sent us any identifier.

LANGFITT: As for Francis, who's 20, he registered using his Juba University I.D.

Up north in Khartoum, the Sudanese government has hinted it could challenge the January vote. The north doesn't want to lose the south, which has the majority of Sudan's oil, and it's made some threatening noises in recent weeks.

Rabie Adbdulatti Obeid, a leader in the ruling National Congress Party, said the North will watch the referendum closely to make sure it's free and fair.

Mr. RABIE ADBDULATTI OBEID (Senior Official, National Congress Party): If the referendum conducted, and we discover that there was rigging, this will definitely create a lot of problems.

LANGFITT: What will you do?

Mr. OBEID: If there's something wrong, nobody will force us to accept it. It will not be acknowledged by the north.

LANGFITT: Which would make an already tense situation that much worse. South Sudan is a huge swath of land with few paved roads. Voters have another 15 days to sign up for the January vote.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Juba, South Sudan.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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