South Sudan leader Kiir urges forgiveness for civil war

President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, praying in Juba, 16 January 2011
Image caption Salva Kiir asked for eternal peace for those who died in the war

The South Sudanese leader has urged his people to forgive the north for killings during a civil war that lasted more than 20 years.

Salva Kiir made the appeal from the pulpit of a Catholic Cathedral in Juba.

Early results from Southern Sudan's referendum indicate the region has voted overwhelmingly to split from the north and form a new country.

Full results of the poll are not due until next month, but the region is widely expected to choose to secede.

"For our deceased brothers and sisters, particularly those who have fallen during the time of struggle, may God bless them with eternal peace," Mr Kiir said on Sunday, in his first public address since the vote.

"And may we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths."

An estimated two million people died in the war between the mainly Muslim north and the south, where most people are Christian or follow traditional religions.

The referendum was part of a peace agreement signed with north Sudan in 2005.

Correspondents say there has been little doubt that Southern Sudan would opt for secession.

Polling stations opened on 9 January and were officially closed on Saturday evening.

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Media captionThere was no referendum in the border region of Abyei because of clashes, says the BBC's James Copnall

'Good result'

A minimum 60% turnout was required for the vote to be considered valid, a target which had easily been passed by the middle of the week.

The chairman of the Southern Sudanese Referendum Commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, has said more than 80% of eligible voters in the south had cast their ballots, along with 53% in the north and 91% of voters living in the eight other countries hosting polling stations.

He said the referendum would be considered "a good result by any international standard".

The Associated Press reported a 95% turnout at 10 sites in Juba, which would be the capital of a future Southern Sudan. A sample suggested that 96% had voted in favour of secession.

Southern Sudanese people living in Europe have already voted 97% in favour of a new state.

Southern Sudanese people living in Australia have been given extra time to cast their votes where severe flooding has hampered the process.

International observers in Southern Sudan have been almost universally optimistic, saying the balloting process has been free and fair.

The BBC's Peter Martell in Juba says that has come as massive relief to the south, for whom this vote means so much.

The process was marred, however, by a deadly attack on a convoy of south Sudanese civilians earlier this week.

US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have both praised the vote.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has promised to accept the results of the poll either way, even if it meant the partition of Africa's largest nation.

"The referendum took place in an atmosphere of calm with a great degree of freedom and fairness," Rabie Abdul Ati, a senior official in Mr Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), told the AFP news agency.

"It is very clear that the party will accept the result whether it be for unity or secession."

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.