Juba - Residents of contested region Abyei chose
overwhelmingly to join South Sudan in an unofficial referendum, election
officials said on Thursday, amid warnings the poll could inflame tensions in
the volatile region.
Only one of the two ethnic groups living in the area voted
in the poll, which is not recognised by either Khartoum or Juba and which the
African Union has warned is a "threat to peace".
The fate of Abyei is one of the most important and sensitive
issues left unresolved since South Sudan became an independent state in 2011,
ending two decades of civil war in Sudan.
"The referendum committee has announced the results,
and the number of people who have chosen to become part of South Sudan is 99.9%
of the vote," Luka Biong, spokesperson for the Abyei Referendum High
Committee, told AFP.
Celebrations including dancing and music broke out after the
results were announced, he said.
African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has said the vote
was illegal and its organisers risk sparking a return to war between civil war
foes in Juba and Khartoum.
"They pose a threat to peace in the Abyei area, and have
the potential to trigger an unprecedented escalation on the ground... with
far-reaching consequences for the region as a whole," she said in a
statement on Monday.
Tim Flatman, an independent observer in Abyei, said that 63
433 of 64 775 registered voters voted in the three-day poll which closed
Tuesday night, quoting official results.
Only 12 voted to be part of Sudan, a number vastly
outweighed by even the 362 spoiled ballots, Flatman said, adding that initial
observations suggested a "very transparent process".
Patrolled by about 4 000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers, the
area is home to the settled Ngok Dinka tribe, closely connected to South Sudan,
as well as the semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move back and
forth from Sudan grazing their cattle.
Only the Ngok Dinka voted - although organisers insist it
was open to all residents -- and the Misseriya have already angrily said they
will not recognise the results of any unilateral poll.
"The people are celebrating, there is dancing and
music, and the nine chiefs of the Dinka Ngok are marching, they will sign a
declaration of commitment to join South Sudan," Biong added.