Congratulations to the freedom-loving people of South Sudan.

KHARTOUM (AFP) — Southern Sudan was well on track to become the world’s newest state on Monday after final results of its historic independence referendum showed that 98.83 percent of its people had voted for succession.

The results — displayed at an announcement ceremony in Khartoum — revealed that, out of 3,837,406 valid ballots cast, only 44,888 votes, or 1.17 percent, favoured the status quo of unity with the north.

The definitive outcome of the January 9-15 referendum emerged soon after Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir said Khartoum accepted the south’s widely anticipated landslide vote for sovereignty.

“We respect the people of south Sudan’s choice and we accept the result of the referendum according to what the commission announces,” the Sudanese leadership said in a statement broadcast on state television.

“South Sudan has chosen secession. But we are committed to the links between the north and the south, and we are committed to good relations based on cooperation,” Bashir himself said earlier, in a speech at the headquarters of his ruling┬áNational┬áCongress┬áParty.

The referendum defied expectations by taking place on time and largely without incident, despite the major logistical challenges facing the organisers and fears that the Khartoum government might try to block a process certain to split Africa’s largest nation in two.

The vote was the centrepiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year conflict between the largely African Christian south and the mainly Arab Muslim north that killed around two million people.

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