JUBA, Sudan – Southern Sudan's referendum commission said Sunday that more than 99 percent of voters in the south opted to secede from the country's north in a vote held earlier this month.
The announcement drew cheers from a crowd of thousands that gathered in Juba, the dusty capital of what may become the world's newest country.
The weeklong vote, held in early January and widely praised for being peaceful and for meeting international standards, was a condition of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a north-south civil war that lasted two decades and killed 2 million people.
The head of the commission's southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut, said Sunday that voter turnout in the 10 states in the south was also 99 percent. He said only some 16,000 voters in the south chose to remain united with northern Sudan, while 3.7 million chose to separate.
In northern Sudan, 58 percent of voters chose secession, said Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of the referendum commission. He said some 60 percent of eligible voters participated.
Southern Sudanese voters in eight foreign countries overwhelmingly supported secession, he said, with 99 percent support for secession among the 97 percent of voters who participated.
In the United States, he said, more than 99 percent of the 8,500 southerners who cast votes chose secession.
"These results lead to a change of situation," said Khalil after he read the results. "That change relates only to the constitutional form of relationship between north and south. North and south are drawn together in indissoluble geographic and historic bonds."
Referendum commission officials did not announce an overall percentage total for all votes cast. The commission's website said Sunday that 98.8 percent of voters chose secession, but noted that the figure may change.
If the process stays on track, Southern Sudan will become the world's newest country in July. Border demarcation, oil rights and the status of the contested region of Abyei still have to be negotiated.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon praised the conduct of the election, but said much still needed to be done.
"We are still very much concerned about post-referendum issues — border security, citizenship, wealth sharing, demarcation, popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, and most importantly the status of Abyei," he said while addressing African leaders at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "Consolidating the peace in North and South Sudan will require statesmanship, wisdom, patience and the consistent engagement and support of the international community."
Southern Sudanese president Salva Kiir also gave remarks at the results ceremony, speaking mostly in Arabic.
"We are still moving forward," Kiir said in English. "The struggle continues."
Kiir thanked Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his leadership and for "making peace possible."
Kiir said the south will declare independence on July 9, but not before.
"We are not going to put down the flag of Sudan until July 9," he said.
The event marked the release of the first official primary results from the self-determination vote. The results will not be finalized until February.
But Sunday's announcement did not stop people from celebrating.
"I'm very happy because today we have determined our destiny," said Anna Kaku, 42, who dressed up for the ceremony and joined the spontaneous dancing that followed Kiir's address. "We fought for so many years, and now we have done this peacefully."
Associated Press writer Samson Haileyesus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.