PORTLAND – Like many of Portland’s Sudanese immigrant population, Regina Nathaniel is elated but not surprised by voters’ overwhelming approval of secession in southern Sudan.

“Of course, I am so happy. This is something we have been waiting for for 62 years. Generations and generations have died,” Nathaniel said as referendum results trickled in over the weekend from rural polling places across the southern half of Africa’s largest country.

Final results are scheduled to be announced next month, but preliminary numbers show the secession vote — which involved only southerners — winning easily, officials said.

Another key threshold needed for secession to pass — 60 percent participation in the vote — seemed assured.

“For us here (in Maine), outside country voters, everywhere is more than 60 percent of the voters. Back in Africa, everywhere is more than 60 percent,” Nathaniel said.

Samuel Albino, an elder in the Sudanese community and a member of the referendum task force, said that so far, participation has been higher than 90 percent. He also said the voting has been seen by the Carter Center for Peace as free of fraud and intimidation.

The south is voting on secession as part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended years of civil war between the north, which is dominated by Muslim Arabs, and the south, predominantly made up of Christian black Africans.

The vote took place over the week ending Jan. 15. A spokesman for the committee overseeing the referendum, Aleu Garang Aleu, said last week that “five or six” of the south’s 10 states have reported final tallies.

Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir has urged southerners to hold off on celebrating until complete results are announced in mid-February.

People are already celebrating in Sudan, Nathaniel said, although the parties will be most jubilant when the results are announced in Juba, the southern capital, and in Khartoum, Sudan’s historic capital.

Ben Arthur is chairman of the Portland chapter of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, southern Sudan’s leading political party, and secretary of the U.S. chapter. He said plans are in the works for Sudanese from across the Northeast to come to Portland for a celebration in mid-February after the formal results are declared.

Arthur said the political systems planned for southern Sudan are likely to closely resemble the representative democracy of the United States and Canada. There are currently four or five major parties, and others may form in the runup to the declaration of statehood expected in July.

Even as the secession vote seems to have been accepted by the north, it is being accompanied by a measure of upheaval in her home country, Nathaniel said.

Many southerners are leaving the north to relocate to what could soon be an independent south, even leaving houses and jobs in the north, said Nathaniel, who regularly gets e-mails from friends in Sudan.

“Even if they cannot work, we have kettles, we are farmers that cultivate food with their own hands, we have enough products to take care of us,” she said.

Albino has not been back to his hometown of Juba since 1986. He said there is a little sadness at not being home for such a momentous occasion, but he believes independence will lead Sudanese-Americans to travel back home more often.

“There will be movement. A good number of us who are here have not been home for many years,” Albino said. “Some will settle there and get jobs. Most of them, I believe they will keep the status of the two countries, American and Sudanese.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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