Southern Sudanese Vote Overwhelmingly To Secede

Officials in Sudan just released a preliminary tally for this month's independence referendum. The results were overwhelming; nearly 99 percent have voted to secede from northern Sudan and create their own country.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

That was the reaction this morning in Southern Sudan. Officials had just released a preliminary tally for this months independence referendum, and the results were overwhelming. Nearly 99 percent have voted to secede from Northern Sudan and create their own country.

NPRs Frank Langfitt was there for the announcement in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan.

And, Frank, boy, why was this vote so decisive? Did you expect that?

FRANK LANGFITT: I think everybody did who spent any time in Juba here, the capital, for very long. Everyone you talked to during the referendum was going to vote for independence. And the reason, really, is a lot of bitterness. It was a war that lasted over two decades. A lot of people lost family members fighting with the North. Also, they felt really neglected by the North.

The South is very underdeveloped. There are maybe 25 miles of paved roads down here - it's nearly the size of Texas. So there was a real feeling that people wanted to have their own country and kind of a chance to choose their own destiny.

HANSEN: The United States brokered the peace agreement in 2005 between North and South Sudan. The Obama administration put a lot of pressure on the leaders in Khartoum not to sabotage the voting. How is the U.S. government viewed there in Juba?

LANGFITT: It's quite popular. That, you know, thats not true all over the world. But people here, when would introduce myself as an American, sometimes people would thank me for what the government had done.

You know, as you pointed out, back during the George Bush administration, he worked very hard to broker this deal. And some people I've talked to who followed it said there really never would have been a peace deal. There probably wouldnt have been a referendum without that work. And the Obama administration has followed through, as well.

So I think that there's a lot appreciation here for what the has U.S. done. And I think it's largely seen so far as a foreign policy victory.

HANSEN: The countries surrounding Southern Sudan the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic theyve been plagued by violence, terrible leadership. Are people worried that Southern Sudan might face similar problems once it's independent?

LANGFITT: There are worries. I mean today was a very celebratory day. But Salva Kiir, he's the president of Southern Sudan and a former guerilla leader, and he warned about all the problems that the country would face, as it moves forward.

A lot of the violence during war was actually Southerners fighting Southerners. And a lot of the rebels who are against the leadership here have come in from cold for the referendum. But there's worry that they may, after it becomes an independent country, frankly, go back to the bush and start fighting again and trying to get the spoils - which in this case, are a lot of oil reserves down here in the South.

HANSEN: So where do you go next in Southern Sudan?

LANGFITT: Well, actually, Im at the airport right now, and Im heading off up into whats called Lake State. And there's been a lot of cattle raiding up there. And this gets to some of the concerns people have in the future. There's a lot of lawlessness in the South because of the civil war, a lot of weaponry.

And when I say cattle raiding, Im not talking about what you used to see in "Bonanza." I was talking to a cattle raider yesterday, who said that he would go off with a thousand men armed with AK-47s, and they would take two or 3,000 cattle and would kill a lot of people.

So Im going up actually to look at a place where there was recently a raid, and try to look at what the government is doing to kind of reduce violence and bring more stability here before independence.

HANSEN: NPRs Frank Langfitt, safe travels, Frank. Thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Thanks a lot, Liane.

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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