|Kiir said the referendum was the most 'decisive moment' in voters lives [Ranjit Bhaskar]
Southern Sudanese are set for the referendum to decide whether they want to secede from the north or remain united.
The week-long polling will start on Sunday across Sudan and eight other countries with substantial southern Sudanese diasporas.
In an appeal to his people, Silva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan, urged them to behave in a peaceful and responsible manner during the referendum.
"This is a most important and decisive moment in your life. It is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of a new journey,” Kiir said, referring to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] signed by the north and the south that brought an end to the Sudanese civil war in 2005 and made the referendum possible.
"Today there is no return to war. There is no substitute for peaceful co-existence and it is critical for the coming generation," he said.
In Juba to see first-hand that the referendum passes off without any incident was Senator John Kerry of the US alongside 1,400 international observers spread across Sudan.
"The people of southern Sudan have reached this stage after going through a series of hardships imposed on them by slavery, colonialism and internal turmoil. Tomorrow, they get the right to determine their own future," Kerry said.
|About 6,000 security personnel will protect the polling stations in south Sudan [Ranjit Bhaskar]
He urged all Sudanese, both in the north and the south, "to embrace this extraordinary moment" for their common good.
Both Kiir and Kerry were all praise for Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, for his commitment to respect the outcome of the referendum which is most likely to split Africa’s largest country into two.
Kerry said the six-month period between now and July 9, when the CPA expires, will be the window to resolve all outstanding issues like division of national debt, border delineation and most importantly the disputed region of Abyei.
He said Kiir had promised that no unilateral steps will be taken on Abyei and he will negotiate for peace.
"If people execute in good faith, many of these decisions can be made well before July 9," Kerry said.
"My president is committed to see them through along with the Darfur issue, which is one of the components in the matrix going forward,” said the US senator, who is in Sudan as a special representative of Barak Obama.
Kerry said the stability of the north is as critical as that of the south.
"The new situation could mean renewal of relations with the US by the north and also of national resurgence [in the north] and it rejoining the international community," he said.
Earlier in the day, Chan Reec Madut, who heads the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, said his organisation is all set for the polling to begin.
He said that more than 60,000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure security in the south.
"The north is equally prepared," Madut said.
"Nobody had asked us about our destiny all these days and tomorrow we will decide to have a place of our own under the sun."
Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the minister of information, said "absolute safety will be guaranteed" to all those taking part in the referendum.
Although the voting process is a week-long process ending on January 15, Madut did not rule out extending the number of days if needed. He said this was because movement of people in remote areas was still a problem.
He said it was realistic to expect the results only three weeks after the last polling date.
Vote counting will be a done on a daily basis and results will be displayed at individual centres. While the preliminary results will be announced from Juba, the final result will be announced in Khartoum.