The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I am pleased to inform the House that polling in the southern Sudan referendum took place between 9 and 15 January 2011. Over 3 million southern Sudanese cast their votes in this historic referendum to decide their future, far exceeding the required 60% turnout figure. Many queued for hours at polling centres, waiting patiently and calmly for the opportunity to express their view.
The successful completion of the referendum is a momentous step towards the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement signed between the north and south in 2005. Observers from the United Kingdom and many other countries have been on the ground monitoring the process closely. This week domestic and international observers have made clear that the process to date has been conducted in a credible manner. This is a truly remarkable achievement and I welcome the observers' assessments, including the EU observation mission's preliminary statement of 17 January that the referendum had met international standards and been free and fair. We await the formal announcement of the result, currently due on 7 or 14 February.
I commend the enormous efforts made over the last few months to prepare for the referendum by the political leadership in Khartoum and Juba, and the work done by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC). I also commend the logistical support for voting inside Sudan provided by the United Nations Mission to Sudan (UNMIS) and the arrangements made for out-of-country voting by the International Organisation for
Migration (IOM). The UK provided significant technical and financial assistance to the polling within Sudan and overseas.
During polling I spoke to both Vice-President Taha and southern President Kiir about the need to resume negotiations on the outstanding CPA issues as soon as possible. I also spoke to President Mbeki, who leads the African Union high-level implementation panel that is supporting the parties, and to President Meles of Ethiopia. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has spoken to Jean Ping of the African Union, Baroness Amos of OCHA and Dr Amre Moussa of the Arab League. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for Africa, the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), has spoken to Haile Menkerios, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan.
The UK, working with international partners, worked closely with the parties to reach the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005. We remain fully supportive as they address the major challenges that still lie ahead. These include questions around the border between north and south, the status of Abyei, international debt, citizenship and security.
At the same time, the UK remains engaged on humanitarian and development issues. Of recent concern has been the large movement of people from north to south, and the displacement of 40,000 people due to violence in Darfur. Perhaps as many as 180,000 people have returned to southern Sudan since November. Contingency arrangements put in place have so far held: the UK has contributed £15 million to referendum-related contingency preparedness and, with the UN, is monitoring the situation closely.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the UK will continue its commitment to both north and south Sudan. We will continue to support African Union/United Nations Chief Negotiator Djibril Bassolé and the Government of Qatar as they seek to establish a lasting and inclusive peace in Darfur.
This is a critical moment for the people of Sudan. Much has been achieved that lessens the risks of a return to war, but there is still much to be done before the end of the comprehensive peace agreement on 9 July 2011.