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Southern Sudan was well on track to become the world's newest state on Monday after final results of its historic

The world's newest state will be born in 2011

Southern Sudan is well on track to become world's newest state after final referendum results for secession.

 

By Simon Martelli - KHARTOUM

 independence referendum showed that 98.83 percent of its people had voted for succession.

The results -- displayed at an announcement ceremony in Khartoum -- revealed that, out of 3,837,406 valid ballots cast, only 44,888 votes, or 1.17 percent, favoured the status quo of unity with the north.

The definitive outcome of the January 9-15 referendum emerged soon after Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir said Khartoum accepted the south's widely anticipated landslide vote for sovereignty.

"We respect the people of south Sudan's choice and we accept the result of the referendum according to what the commission announces," the Sudanese leadership said in a statement broadcast on state television.

"South Sudan has chosen secession. But we are committed to the links between the north and the south, and we are committed to good relations based on cooperation," Bashir himself said earlier, in a speech at the headquarters of his ruling National Congress Party.

The referendum defied expectations by taking place on time and largely without incident, despite the major logistical challenges facing the organisers and fears that the Khartoum government might try to block a process certain to split Africa's largest nation in two.

The vote was the centrepiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year conflict between the largely African Christian south and the mainly Arab Muslim north that killed around two million people.

The final results came one week after preliminary results showed almost 99 percent of south Sudanese choosing to split with the north.

Speaking to the cabinet after the presidential declaration, Kiir praised Bashir and promised cooperation with the north after the south becomes independent in July.

"If President Bashir and the NCP have been consistent in implementing the (peace) agreement, we want to do other things to show that what was done has been appreciated," he said.

"The (freedom) of the south is not the end of the road, because we cannot be enemies. We must build strong relations ... (as) there are many things that connect the north and the south," Kiir added.

The southern president pledged to create a soft border that allows the free movement of people and goods, to cooperate on security, and to help in lifting sanctions, having Sudan's foreign debt forgiven and reaching a peace deal on Darfur.

In the southern capital Juba, celebrations were already underway at former rebel leader John Garang's mausoleum, where a projector had been set up to broadcast the announcement in Khartoum.

Hundreds of people gathered, waving flags, singing and dancing, despite the stifling heat.

"We are free!" said Simon Puoch, a student. "They said we could not make it, that south Sudan would descend into violence. But we dance here to celebrate our peaceful celebration!"

"We are very happy today," added Akeen Santo, another student. "I will celebrate all night. There will be no school tomorrow for us."

Bashir on Monday renewed his commitment to protect southerners in the north and pledged to work to resolve all outstanding issues between the north and south by July.

But he warned that any resolution to the future of the flashpoint border region of Abyei must accommodate the rights of the Arab nomads, who migrate there each year looking for pasture for their cattle.

"We will not be a part of any solution that does not reserve the rights of the Misseriya. Voting in the Abyei referendum is the right of all citizens, and there are no second-class citizens because they are nomads," he said.

The future status of Abyei is the most sensitive issue that Khartoum and Juba must resolve ahead of southern independence, with oil-revenue sharing, border demarcation and citizenship also on the agenda.

More than 37 people died in clashes there last month, amid deadlock over who should be eligible to vote in a plebiscite that was due to coincide with the southern referendum on whether the region stays with the north or joins the south.

At the African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week, Kiir reiterated the SPLM's stand that the region should hold its delayed vote or be handed to the south by a presidential decree.

In contrast to the jubilation in the south, the outcome of the referendum has caused sadness and at times anger in the north, where student activists organised street protests last week calling for regime change that were swiftly suppressed by the security forces

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