, JUBA, Sudan, Jan 7 – Campaigns for Southern Sudan\’s historic referendum came to a close on Friday with various leaders, including former South African head Thabo Mbeki, urging citizens to maintain peace.
According to the United Nations (UN) refugee agency 120,000 southerners have returned to south Sudan from the north in anticipation of the secession referendum.
The report by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claimed that the influx had steadily increased since December.
"There is an average of 2,000 people crossing into the South each day. The number of southerners leaving the North to return to their ancestral homes has doubled since mid-December," read the statement.
On December 21, the agency alleged that 55,000 southerners had returned from the north and that it expected the number to continue rising.
"Many of the returnees who have lived in the north for years say they have left for fear of the unknown and the opportunity to start afresh in their native South," the UN refugee agency said.
So far, close to four million southerners have been registered for the weeklong exercise that was borne out of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 22 year civil war in which more than two million people were killed and another five million displaced.
Ballot boxes and other materials required for the voting process have already been delivered to the various polling stations in both the south and north regions as well as in the Diaspora.
Each ballot paper carries two separate pictures – one with an open hand indicating separation and the other with two clasped hands for unity. Voters will be expected to mark one of the pictures.
On Thursday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged authorities in Sudan to ensure that intimidation and abuse did not mar the historic vote.
Mr Mbeki also urged African states to continue supporting Sudan even after the referendum, regardless of what its outcome would be.
The former President, who also doubles up as the Chairman of the African Union panel in Sudan, has in the past paid tribute to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir for pledging to support and work with the southern region.
He argued that Africans should maintain their solidarity in order to reach greater heights.
"The African struggle for liberation has always had the objective of achieving Africa\’s integration and unity and we hope that the southern Sudanese will continue to address the important issue of how they would contribute to the larger Pan African project," he said.
He further asked the Sudanese to work together in ironing out the challenges that would face their country after the secession referendum.
"Southern Sudan is about to exercise its right to self determination in the 21st century. We would therefore like to believe that should you the people of southern Sudan choose independence you will draw on your experiences to ensure the successful construction of what will be Africa\’s 54th state," he said.
The referendum will begin on January 9 and close on January 15. Voting will be between 8 o\’clock in the morning and 5 o\’clock in the evening.