On Sunday, voting began in the historic southern Sudan referendum.  Through January 15, southern Sudanese will cast their ballots to determine whether the region will stay unified with the north or secede and become an independent country.  More than 3.9 million people are registered to vote in Sudan, and more than 60,000 are registered in eight countries that have large populations of southern Sudanese, including the United States.

Southern Sudanese wait to vote in Juba on the first of seven days of polling for the referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan will remain united with northern Sudan or will secede and form a new nation. The referendum is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Credit: Angela Stephens/USAID

President Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Saturday, “Not every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet today — after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees — this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan.”  The White House also released a written statement yesterday in praise of the referendum and its implications for the peace process.

On Saturday, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration held a press conference in Sudan.  On the importance of the vote, Senator Kerry said:

“What happens in Sudan – some people may be scratching their heads in some parts of the world and say, ‘Well how does this affect me?’  The truth is that the stability of Sudan is important to all of us.  In a world that has become increasingly more complicated, increasingly more volatile, increasingly more extreme in various places, we want to see Sudan — north and south — contribute to global stability, and become a partner for peace all around the world.  That’s the future that we can grab onto tomorrow, and we’re proud to be here today to help contribute to it.”