JUBA // South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to declare independence from the north in a referendum, according to officials in seven out of the region's 10 states polled by Reuters yesterday.
The poll is in line with widely held expectations of the result of last week's plebiscite, the climax of a peace deal in 2005 that ended decades of north-south civil war. Official results are not expected to be announced until early February.
Referendum officials reported large votes in favour of independence, some releasing early figures, some saying trends pointed to support of more than 90 per cent, in the southern states of Central Equatoria, Unity, Lakes, Jonglei, Warrap, Western Bahr al Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria.
Alfred Sebit Lokuji, the chairman for the referendum committee covering Central Equatoria state, a territory that includes the southern capital, Juba, said: "From the figures we have so far the vote is overwhelmingly for independence … more than 90 per cent across the board.
A total of 153,839 people voted for independence in Western Bahr al Ghazal state, against 7,237 for continued unity with the north, said that state's committee chairman, Wol Madut Chan.
Western Bahr al Ghazal lies on the south's border with the north, neighbouring the Darfur region. Its figures amounted to a 95 per cent vote for separation, once spoilt and unmarked ballots were accounted for.
Referendum officials in Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria states said they were heading towards a 99 per cent vote for separation.
Michael Moyil Chol, the chair of the referendum committee for Unity state, an oil-producing area which also borders the north, said: "So far it looks like more than 80 per cent are in favour of independence."
Officials did not release figures or give any indications in the states of Western Equatoria and Upper Nile while no one immediately answered calls in Northern Bahr al Ghazal.
Referendum officials have reported large votes for independence among groups of southerners voting in Egypt, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Southern leaders have urged people from the oil-producing region not to hold premature celebrations and to wait for the final figures.