By Ray Fleming

It has become customary to laugh when any vote of 90 per cent or more is announced, usually in a dictatorship; obviously some ballot rigging has been going on.

Yesterday the result of the referendum on southern Sudan's secession from northern Sudan produced a 99 per cent vote in favour -- but no one laughed. For once such a vote had been expected and the voting was declared to have been “free and fair” by international observers. North and South Sudan should never have been a single nation -- their peoples are different in almost every respect -- but it was just another case of colonial convenience to draw straight lines on a map, rather like Nigeria. After independence in the 1950s several civil wars followed, the most serious between 1983 and 2005 costing two million lives. The peace agreement provided for a referendum after six years and it duly took place last month. Despite the decisive result there is still work to be done over borders and the share of revenues from oil which mostly comes from the South but depends on a pipeline running through the North.

After the result itself the biggest bonus of the referendum has been the attitude Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, who was expected to make difficulties but proved to be co-operative throughout. Hopefully he will remain so during the remaining negotiations so that Southern Sudan can become independent, as planned, on 9 July.