More than 99 per cent of votes in southern Sudan in January’s referendum have been cast in favour of secession from the country’s northern region, according to preliminary results.

A total of 3,837,406 votes were cast. While opinion in the country’s north was more divided with 42.4 per cent voting for unity, 99.6 per cent of Sudan’s southern voters opted for secession.

Due to the much higher population in the south – with 3,724,194 votes cast in the south compared with 69,597 in the north – the overall vote in favour of secession stands at 98.83 per cent.

The poll was agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of war along religious and ethnic lines between the predominantly Islamic north and Christian south.

Final results are expected by early-February. However, by voting overwhelmingly in favour of secession, Southern Sudan will almost certainly become the world’s newest country.

Solutions on the division of economic resources, particularly Sudan’s oil reserves in the south, will now need to be found.