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US: Sudan Referendum 'Off to a Very, Very Good Start'

The U.S. special envoy to Sudan visited polling sites in the country's south Monday, on the second day of voting in the landmark independence referendum. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that the polling is off to a good start.

Crowley said the United States is closely monitoring the week-long poll in southern Sudan. "It is a historic occasion in Africa, and, most importantly, for the people of southern Sudan. All referendum centers opened on time yesterday and have the necessary materials and trained staff. Notwithstanding some instances of violence, the atmosphere of polling was orderly and peaceful. There is a robust observer presence at all polling stations. And we think it is off to a very, very good start," he said.

The referendum is part of the 2005 peace deal that ended 21years of war between Sudan's Muslim-majority north and the mainly Christian and animist south. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has pledged to accept the results.

Crowley said Special Envoy Scott Gration traveled to polling sites in Malakal, Bentiu and elsewhere in southern Sudan Monday. Gration is due back in Juba Tuesday and is set to travel to Darfur later this week with the Obama administration's new senior adviser on Darfur, Ambassador Dane Smith. While in Darfur, they are expected to meet with government officials, leaders of the United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur and civil society groups.