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Southern Sudan Poll Delay Unnecessary, Itto Says

Voting in the January referendum on independence in southern Sudan can go ahead without delay now that a U.K. company started printing ballot papers, said Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

The contract for printing the papers was awarded to Tall Security Print Ltd. on Dec. 5 and the company agreed to complete the printing within 15 days. The ballots should be ready for distribution across Southern Sudan, in parts of the north and eight foreign countries before the end of the month, Itto told reporters in the southern capital, Juba.

Itto left open the possibility of extending the seven-day voting period on technical grounds.

“For me the most important thing is it starts on the 9th of January,” Itto said. “If many people have not voted, it will be the decision of the commission to either extend by a few days or not.”

Southerners are scheduled to vote on Jan. 9 on whether to remain united with Northern Sudan or form an independent country. The vote is the centerpiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south. There are concerns that any delay of the plebiscite may lead to renewed violence.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the body organizing the referendum, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, requested a short delay, citing the tight schedule.

The deadline for registration was originally Dec. 1, followed by a period of objections to names on the list. It was extended to Dec. 8. The final list of voters is due on Jan. 8.

Itto said the ruling party’s southern sector will be campaigning in support of separation, the first time the SPLM has officially announced its support fpt southern independence.

“Since unity has not been made attractive, we are promoting what our people choose because we are following the people,” said Itto.

The majority of Southern Sudanese favor independence, according to an Oct. 20 study by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, based on 63 focus groups surveyed in 48 locations from Feb. 5 to March 16.

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