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Southern Sudan votes on secession

In a land marked by destitution, ethnic hate and a long history of civil war, the mostly Christian and animist voters of the south are expected overwhelmingly to favor seceding from the predominantly Muslim north.

January 10, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

North and south may break apart politically but will be, at least temporarily, bound by nature and need. The south, governed by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, generates 80% of the country's oil output. But it needs northern-controlled pipelines to reach the shipping ports on the Red Sea. The two sides now share oil revenues, a pact that could be rewritten in coming years.

"I've been waiting for 20 years to cast this ballot," said Martin Laku, who checked the open palm symbol signifying independence instead of the clasped hands for unity. "This freedom will improve our land. It will change my life. Businesses and factories will come, and I will get a job."

Sidonia Rose chewed a stalk of sugar cane after she voted. She was 13 when northern soldiers and militias trundled away and peace came to the villages. She carried a survivor's aspirations and a young woman's anger: "During the war, the Arabs held the nation. They slaughtered our men and women like goats. Many in my family died. My father was beaten until he stopped breathing."

The priests hurried for Mass. The voting line grew. Sephriana Keji slipped her ballot into a plastic box and dipped her finger in ink. She stepped past police and voting officials and wandered toward the road beyond the church, where children drew water from a well and grazing lands had been blackened by fires to refresh the soil.

"With this freedom, we must forgive those who abused us," she said. "We must free our hearts."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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