Riverboats on the Nile transport exiles returning to South Sudan. Photo: Tim Freccia for the NGO ENOUGH Project
A referendum on the independence of South Sudan is set for January 9. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, who live in exile in the north of the country, have already taken to the road to return to their hometowns.
According to the UN
, two and a half million people will return to South Sudan between now and January 9, the day the population will vote for or against the partition of Sudan into two separate states. This referendum is the cornerstone of the peace agreements signed in 2005 to end more than two decades of bloody civil war between the Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. In October the government of South Sudan, a semi-autonomous region consisting of 10 states, launched a campaign of accelerated repatriation of its exiled citizens in order to ensure their return in time for the referendum.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, currently visiting the south of the country
, has reaffirmed his willingness to respect the result of the vote, but still calls for national unity. During the past few months, military forces have been deployed on both sides of the border between the north and the south, a sign of tension in the run-up to the election. Last year the South Sudanese Army accused northern military forces of carrying out a raid
against one of its military bases. Furthermore, on Tuesday a large-scale security operation
was launched in Juba, the South’s main town, where armed soldiers are patrolling the streets.
Most projections show voters strongly in the favour of independence.