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Independence Referendum Ballots Arrive in Sudan

Eamon Omordha, right, Deputy Director of United Nations Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division, hands over a referendum ballot to Justice Chan Reec Madut, left, Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, during a material handover ceremony in

The ballot papers for a January referendum on southern independence have arrived in Sudan. The United Nations handed over the materials to the referendum commission during a ceremony in the southern capital, starting the final stage of preparations for the vote.

U.N. Integrated Referendum and Elections Division Director Dennis Kadima presented the ballots for the January referendum. He said this was the last step in ensuring an on-time referendum.

"Now we can certainly say the referendum will happen on the ninth of January," said Kadima.

More than seven million ballots arrived in Juba, far more than the approximately 3.5 million registered voters in the south. Now, the ballots will be distributed to the more than 2,600 voting centers by the U.N. Development Program.

The January 9 vote is the centerpiece of a 2005 peace deal between the mostly Christian and animist south and mostly Muslim north. The agreement ended a 21-year civil war that cost about two million lives and displaced more than four million people.

Preparations for the independence referendum have been plagued by delays and political maneuvering since the peace deal was signed. An on-time vote has often been in doubt. Like so much of the preparations, the arrival of the ballot papers in time was not a sure thing.

The chairman of the referendum commission's southern office, Chan Reec Madut, has said it would be a miracle if the referendum occurred on time.

"Some people actually told us it is not going to be possible," said Chan. "But it now appears there has been some divine intervention."

The ballots were printed in England, and travel there has been crippled by bad weather. Earlier in the week, it was not clear when the ballots would arrive, but the U.N. chartered a plane to help get past the delays.

Momentum for an on-time referendum now appears to be unstoppable. The registration process was given a passing grade by the U.N., Carter Center and domestic observers.

Distribution on the south's frequently impassable roads is now much easier than before registration because the rainy season has ended. The voting is scheduled to last from the 9th until the 15th of January and results are expected by early February, at the latest.