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He described Abyei as the Ngok Dinka tribe’s land and said the nomadic Misseriya must have nothing to do with the determination of its future.

He said the south would guarantee the Misseriya’s right to graze their livestock in Abyei and pass through the region on their way to fresh pastures.

Western officials say preparations for the Abyei referendum have fallen behind schedule and a delay in the vote likely would result in a spike in tensions between the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya.

Franco Edward, a member of the Ngok Dinka and former resident of Abyei who traveled to Alexandria over the weekend to register for the referendum, described the Misseriya as guests who are now trying to take Abyei away from the Ngok Dinka.

“We shouldn’t have to vote twice; Abyei is a part of the south,” Mr. Edward said.

Southern Sudanese leaders have asked the U.N. Security Council to establish a buffer zone along the north-south border and deploy peacekeepers to prevent skirmishes and a return to the civil war that tore apart the country for two decades.

The International Organization for Migration is assisting the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission to conduct voter registration in eight countries.

In the U.S., three voter registration centers - in Alexandria; Omaha, Neb.; and Phoenix - have been set up for the southern Sudanese diaspora.

On Saturday, groups of enthusiastic southerners - some who had carpooled in vans from as far away as Ohio - arrived at the center in Alexandria to collect their voter registration cards.

“The diaspora is a very important constituency for Southern Sudan to rebuild itself,” Mr. Amum said.

Agnes Oswaha, a representative of the government of Southern Sudan, said just a trickle of people arrived at the center during the week but more turned up over the weekend.

She said the biggest challenge for most had been getting to the center.

“People have traveled long distances to be here. They feel it is their national duty,” Ms. Oswaha said.

Standing outside the center, the tip of his right forefinger stained with ink - proof that he had registered to vote - Ring Chan declared he would be voting for  “my freedom” on Jan. 9.

Mr. Chan, who fled the war in Sudan and now lives in Ohio, said he would consider returning to his homeland if the south secedes. This determination was echoed by Jackson Kuol and William Aleu, who happily posed for photographs with their voter registration cards.

Yohana Roy, who also traveled from Ohio, said that since the signing of the CPA, Mr. Bashir[‘]s government has done nothing to make unity attractive to southerners.

“Now it is our turn to choose freedom,” Mr. Roy said.