Status of Preparations for the Southern Sudan Referendum

Special Briefing
Princeton Lyman
   Lead, Sudan Negotiation Support Unit 
Robert E. Whitehead
   Charge d'Affairs
Barrie Walkley
   Consul General
Special Briefing via teleconference
Washington, DC
December 10, 2010

MR. TONER: Thank you very much. And thank you, all of you, for your patience. We had a press briefing that ran a little long, but that’s finished.

We are very fortunate to have with us today Ambassador Princeton Lyman, as well as our charge in Khartoum, Chargé d’Affaires Bob Whitehead, our Consul General Barrie Walkley in Juba. They are here to discuss the successful completion of voter registration in Sudan, as well as provide an update on preparations for the January 9th Southern Sudan referendum.

As many of you would note, this is part of a regular series we’ve been doing. We’ve done one other call; we’ll do more calls, but again, just to give you a sense of progress and – on the ground. And just a reminder, the opening remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Whitehead and Consul General Walkley are on the record.

Without further ado, then, I’ll introduce Chargé d’Affaires Whitehead. Do you want to go ahead?

MR. WHITEHEAD: Thank you. This is Bob Whitehead. Good evening. I guess good afternoon, your time. Welcome, one and all.

Yes, we are very pleased with what’s going on so far, the registration, and it closed out on the 8th, that – we can’t get too far into the numbers, because they’re not completely complete. But here in the North, where we think we had slightly less than 300,000 people anticipated who could be able to vote, there’s around approximately 115,000, we believe, that have registered. Decent turnout.

It was totally peaceful. There were no disruptions. As far as we know, there’s been nothing that would cast a shadow over the process so far. There have been a few reports of irregularities, but nothing serious. And so we’re quite pleased with the way it’s gone. Thank you.

Barrie, I will kick it down to you.

MR. WALKLEY: Well, hello everybody. This is Barrie Walkley in Juba. As you have probably heard, the registration went remarkably well in Southern Sudan. Perfect? No, not perfect. There were some minor problems, but they were, indeed, minor. And when the problems were identified and pointed out to the relevant authorities at the county, the state, or at the Juba level, they responded quickly to rectify things.

I visited many towns around the South during the last couple of weeks, and my colleagues here at the consulate visited many more. And the story was just about the same everywhere: a sense of excitement by people waiting patiently in lines to register, in rural areas, some of them walking for hours to reach a registration site. You may know that Southern Sudan’s an area approximately the size of France with no paved highways, a few paved roads in towns, but no paved highways, none.

Many, probably most, of the registration centers were in the open air, under trees, with some striped tape identifying the site and workers sitting under – around crude tables, intense and remarkably serious about their responsibilities. I don’t know what the final tally is going to be. Nobody is really going to know until January the 8th. But given the enthusiasm I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if it approaches four million.

Why did everything go so well? It’s a question we’re all asking ourselves. And part of the reason is the enormous interest and effort on the part of the international community, including the United States, the UN, and the UN sister agencies. But to be perfectly honest, a lot of credit truly must go to the Sudanese themselves.

PRN: 2010/1799