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As Sudan votes in referendum, US shows continued involvement

As the week-long Sudan referendum vote wraps up, the United States's words and actions show that it intends to continue a high level of diplomatic engagement.

By Amanda HsiaoGuest blogger / January 14, 2011

A member of the voting staff takes fingerprint of a southern Sudanese woman voter at a polling station in Hajj Yousef Locality, Khartoum on Jan. 14. On Friday, southerners started their penultimate day of voting in the week-long referendum on whether to declare independence, a plebiscite that it widely expected to see the underdeveloped region emerge as a new nation.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

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News broke today (Editor's note: This post was written on Jan. 12.) that the turnout of voters in the southern Sudan referendum has surpassed the 60 percent threshold required for the vote to be deemed credible. It is an important technical milestone, especially in conjunction with the uniformly positive readouts on the first four days of polling from observers. The US for one has a significant presence, between both the Carter Center mission and the deployment of US officials to observe the vote in five out of the 10 states in South Sudan.

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The independence vote is “going extremely well” said US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson in a joint press conference with lead US negotiator Princeton Lyman in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. “[W]e are pleased with the high level of turnout and the cooperation of officials in both north and south Sudan,” Carson said.

“There's been no problems at all throughout the area,” said Ambassador Lyman, who added that the voting environment in the North was well organized, with no overt security problems. (It’s worth pointing out, however, that an atmosphere of intimidation in the North surrounding the referendum led to low turnout during the voter registration process weeks ago.)

But US messaging during this critical phase has rightly not been limited to felicitations. It has also focused attention on the many political obstacles still to overcome – an encouraging sign that US diplomatic engagement will remain at a high level in the coming months.

“Now, a lot of technical work has been done,” said Lyman with regards to the many post-referendum issues northern and southern leaders have to work out. “But the tough political decisions on these issues remains to be done,” he said.

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