U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken by phone with the leader of southern Sudan to express support for next month's referendum that will decide if the nation's south will become an independent country.
The White House says Obama told Salva Kiir that his leadership is critical at such a volatile time in his country. Obama also urged him to talk seriously with the ruling National Congress Party to resolve any issues pertaining to the 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the north and south.
Tensions between the north and south have been rising ahead of the vote. The sides have been unable to resolve issues on borders and oil revenue.
Southern Sudanese are scheduled to vote January 9 on whether to remain part of Sudan or become an independent country.
Ballots for southern Sudan's independence referendum arrived in the southern capital of Juba from Britain on Wednesday by chartered plane, avoiding the the bad weather flight delays plaguing Europe.
More than seven million ballots were printed, more than twice the number of registered voters.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.