- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Obama administration is weighing options to give an early reward to Sudan's government if a referendum that would allow the southern part of the country to secede takes place without a hitch.

Southern Sudanese in Sudan and in eight other countries turned out in large numbers at the start of the weeklong vote on Sunday. Sudanese in the U.S. voted at centers in Alexandria, Va.; Omaha, Neb.; and Phoenix.

“We want to do something in the immediate term to recognize a successful referendum, and we are thinking of ways we can do that,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the delicate nature of the matter. “But we also need to be sure that the achievements to date are at a place where they can’t be rolled back.”

The Obama administration already has offered to normalize relations between Washington and Khartoum if Sudan's government fully implements the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended more than two decades of civil war that killed nearly 2 million people in Africa’s largest nation.

The U.S. has said it will consider taking Sudan off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, appoint an ambassador and allow additional licenses to increase trade and investment opportunities in Sudan.

Salva Kiir, president of the semiautonomous government of Southern Sudan, casts his vote in front of a cheering crowd of hundreds of Sudanese voters in Juba on Sunday. About 4 million southern Sudanese voters began casting their ballots Sunday in a weeklong referendum on independence that is expected to split Africa's largest nation in two. (Associated Press)
Salva Kiir, president of the semiautonomous government of Southern Sudan, casts his ... more >

But these steps will be taken only after the referendum’s outcome has been decided and implemented.

On Sunday, Salva Kiir, president of the semiautonomous government of Southern Sudan, cast his vote at a polling station in the south’s capital, Juba.

“This is the historic moment the people of Southern Sudan have been waiting for,” Mr. Kiir said, according to an Associated Press report.

Turnout was higher than expected in the south, where long lines formed outside polling stations.

Observing the lines in Juba, a U.S. official remarked that it would take a while before people got to vote.

“We have waited years for this. What is another hour or two?” voters replied enthusiastically.

The international community is worried about the fate of Christian and animist southerners living in the north and Arab Muslim northerners in the south.

A couple of hundred thousand southerners who were living in the north crossed into the south ahead of the vote.

Former President Jimmy Carter; Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat; Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan; and actor George Clooney were among those who observed the vote.

“We know that there are those who may try to disrupt the voting,” President Obama said in a statement.

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