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Border ambush clouds south Sudan vote

11 January 2011, 14:03

Juba - A deadly ambush targeting south Sudanese civilians returning from the north for a week-long independence vote clouded the mood of enthusiasm that saw polling hours extended from Tuesday.

Armed Misseriya Arab tribesmen killed 10 south Sudanese civilians and wounded 18 near the border as they were returning from the north, southern internal affairs minister Gier Chuang said on Tuesday.

"A convoy of returnees coming from the north to the south were ambushed yesterday (Monday) at about 17:00 (14:00 GMT) by armed Misseriya. Ten were killed and 18 were wounded," Chuang told a news conference in the southern regional capital Juba.

"The attackers came in six or seven vehicles with guns," he said.

The landmark independence referendum, which again saw a big turnout on its third day on Tuesday, has prompted tens of thousands of southerners to return from the north.

Chuang called for the Khartoum government to held accountable for the attack by the heavily armed Arab nomad tribe, which was a key auxiliary militia of the northern army during the 1983-2005 civil war and is involved in a continuing conflict with pro-southern Dinka in the disputed border district of Abyei.

Flare-up of violence

"The Misseriya belong to a state and that state has to be held accountable," he said.

The minister said that the ambush was the only incidence of violence to cast a shadow over the referendum on Tuesday.

"Otherwise, the security in all of the states of the south remains normal and the south is on track to achieve the objective it has fought for for so many years," he said.

On Monday, troops had killed two renegade militiamen in Unity state, a key oil-producing area near the north-south border where voting had been suspended in some areas the previous day following earlier deadly clashes.

There has also been a flare-up of violence in Abyei in recent days between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka in which the two sides reported losses totalling at least 33 dead since Friday.

Tensions in the district have been rising with the launch of the independence vote in the south. Abyei had been due to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on its own future, but it has been indefinitely postponed.

Remote home villages

Referendum organisers said that otherwise the huge turnout seen on Sunday and Monday had been repeated across the south and that polling hours were being extended for the remaining five days of voting.

"The voting time has been extended to 18:00 (1:500 GMT) each day," organising commission number two Chan Reec said.

The huge crowds still queueing to cast their ballots at the end of the original 08:00 to 17:00 voting hours over the first two days had left many polling stations struggling to cope.

In Lakes state west of Juba, governor Chol Tong Mayay said that some voters were having to repeat the long journey from their remote home villages after being turned away by polling station staff because huge queues remained at the end of normal hours.

Intelligent guess

Reec said that figures were only available from less than half of polling stations but that at those centres alone, nearly a million of the 3.75 million people registered in the south had already voted.

"The 46% that have reported have registered close to a million but if you take account of the other 54% you can make some intelligent guess," Reec said.

A direct extrapolation would put south Sudan very close to the 60% turnout threshold required for the referendum to be valid under the 2005 peace deal between north and south.

But the polling stations that have been able to report would have been in urban areas and the remote countryside might have had a much lower turnout.



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