|Early results from the South Sudan referendum vote suggest that the south will split from the north [AFP]
South Sudan's independence referendum was "credible and well organised," European observers said
in their first official judgment on the poll, with results appearing likely to favour secession.
"If I had to summarise the conduct of the referendum, I would say free and peaceful voting took place, with an overwhelming turnout." the EU mission's chief Veronique de Keyser told a news conference in
De Keyser said the referendum campaign was conducted peacefully in south Sudan, where the vast majority of voters were registered, with "only isolated cases of intimidation" by government security officials at voting centres.
Early results from the week-long vote suggest an overwhelming vote for a split between the north and the south.
An Associated Press review of results at 10 sites in the south's capital of Juba found a 95 per cent voter turnout in which 96 per cent were in support of secession. The remaining three per cent were for unity and the rest were invalid.
Preliminary results are expected by the end of the month and if trends persist, south Sudan would become an independent nation on July 9, according to the terms of the 2005 north-south peace deal that promised the referendum.
Senior north Sudanese official Ibrahim Ghandour told Reuters last week that the voting had been "broadly fair", allaying fears that disagreements over the outcome would reignite conflict.
The two sides of Sudan have had a long history of tension and conflict, with the country's north-south civil war staking the claim to having been Africa's longest.
De Keyser hailed the "courageous political leadership" demonstrated by the ruling parties of north and south Sudan and said she was "confident that the free will of the Sudanese people would be respected."
Former US President Jimmy Carter, leading the other major observation mission for the referendum, also said he expected the Khartoum-based government to honour the poll's results.
On Monday he praised voters for their patience and commitment.
The Carter Centre called the voting process "broadly consistent with international standards," and said secession appeared "virtually certain."
"Uprising likely in north"
More than 4,000 domestic and international observers watched the historic weeklong vote, which ended Saturday.
The 60 per cent voter turnout threshold was likely reached and surpassed, ensuring the validity of the upcoming results, the EU's De Keyser said.
Georg Charpentier, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, last week said a total of 180,000 southerners had returned from the north since November, with more than 15,000 arriving in the week-long polling period alone.
He said the UN was expecting between 500,000 and 600,000 southerners to arrive home by August, prompted by the referendum and the probability of secession.
Meanwhile, north Sudanese Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi said on Monday that a Tunisia-style uprising is "likely" in the north amid mounting economic woes and fears over the looming secession of the south.
In an interview with AFP, Turabi, a one-time key mentor turned bitter opponent of President Omar al-Bashir, warned that if Bashir failed to share power in the face of popular protests, it may lead to bloodshed.