Southern Sudan Braces For Independence

Voters in southern Sudan cast their ballots in a referendum that will likely lead to the formation of the world's newest nation. The referendum is part of the peace deal that ended the 1983-2005 civil war between the north and south.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Southern Sudanese flocked to the polls today in a vote almost certain to split Africa's largest country in two, north and south, after 20 years of fighting that's left millions dead.

In a moment, we'll have a report from the north, but first to the south, where NPR's Frank Langfitt met one voter who survived that country's brutal civil war.

FRANK LANGFITT: Batali Charles lined up at 6 a.m., two hours before the polls opened in Lanya, a market town amid Southern Sudan's vast expanse of brush and rocky mountains. He wore a pair of jeans, sandals and a smile.

Mr. BATALI CHARLES: I'm much excited about the referendum.

LANGFITT: Charles and most Southern Sudanese voters were very excited. Today was one they'd dreamed of for years. After more than two decades of civil war, Southern Sudan will spend the next week deciding whether to become independent from the north.

For most people here, it's an easy decision. The Muslim north and its Arab militias bombed and burned the largely Christian and animist south in what became Africa's longest civil war. Two million people died.

Batali was just a boy when the north attacked Lanya. Like so many southerners, he and his family fled into the harsh countryside.

Mr. CHARLES: During the war, you cannot stay in a place like this. You have to run and keep yourself somewhere in the bush.

LANGFITT: How long did you live in the bush?

Mr. CHARLES: I lived in the bush for around 20 years.

LANGFITT: Twenty years?

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, 20 years in the bush.

LANGFITT: It's not an unusual story in Southern Sudan. Batali Charles is now 27 and has two children. Charles says independence will give them a better life. Like most Southern Sudanese, he says the north starved the south of resources, neglecting schools, health care and roads.

Mr. CHARLES: What I wanted them to get in Southern Sudan in the future, they should really enjoy life, a life of freedom.

LANGFITT: There have been concerns that violence instigated by the north could mar the referendum. But today's polling appeared to be peaceful. Because of Southern Sudan's size and poor roads, polls will remain open into next weekend.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Juba, Southern Sudan.

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