Sudanese voter drive kicks off peacefully in Omaha


November 16th, 2010

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Omaha, NE – Voting registration got underway in Omaha Tuesday, Nov. 16 for a referendum in Sudan that’s been called a “defining moment” for that war-torn nation.

A steady stream of voters trickled in for the first day of the registration drive in Omaha. Sudanese refugees from around the country are expected to travel to the city over the next two weeks to register to vote in a January referendum. Omaha is one of three cities in the United States where Sudanese can register… and later return to vote.  The city was chosen because of its large Sudanese refugee population. Tipkwan Ajang came to the U.S. from Sudan 11 years ago. A National Guard soldier and student at Metropolitan Community College, he said he’s made a home for himself here.

“I’m in my home, I feel safe, I feel good, but there’s still something touching me in my country, he said in broken English. “When there is no freedom, no equality, no free speech and religion… that’s why I’m still concerned about anything going on in Sudan.”

January’s referendum will decide whether the mainly Christian Southern Sudan will split from the mainly Arab and Islamic north, and form its own country. The vote is considered a crucial test of a 2005 peace agreement that ended 40 years of bloody civil war.

“We should be united all the time,” Ajang said. But although he doesn’t want complete separation, he said he plans to vote for independence.

“Because of the bad treatment that we as Southerners are receiving from the government of Khartoum.” Ajang said Islamic fundamentalist government groups are taking over the Khartoum government in the North, and mistreating non-Muslim people.

Ajang said he still has family in Sudan, and many others died in the violence. So many in fact, he said he doesn’t have an accurate count. He is hopeful, though, that those who remain will also be registering their names to cast their ballots.

“I have hope,” he said, “the same hope that I have built up in myself, I have confidence if the referendum’s not being rejected or if there’s not violence…. then I believe they will vote.”

Ajang’s wife and children are safe, and hopefully casting their votes. But they’ll be doing so in Australia. The family was split up, something which occurs frequently when refugees flee a war-torn nation.

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