Voter registration for a January referendum to decide whether oil-producing southern Sudan will remain part of the country has kicked off.
Hundreds of Sudanese in south of the country are lining up to put their names on the electoral list. Some five million people are expected to register.
"This is a historic moment for south Sudan. I cannot wait to get on the voting list and vote in the referendum," AFP quoted a man waiting at a registration center.
Sudan, Africa's largest nation, is scheduled to stage two referendums on January 9 -- one on the independence of Southern Sudan and the other on whether the contested oil-rich Abyei region should link up with the north or south in case of the country's disintegration.
Media reports suggest that the United States, Britain and Israel are pressuring Sudan to hand over the city of El Obeid to the North in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and financial aid. Washington has already called for a referendum to be held in the city before it is held elsewhere.
This comes as the leaders of northern and southern regions of Sudan have agreed to allow free movement of trade and nomads between their territories in case of separation.
Under a 2005 peace pact that ended decades of civil strife, Africa's largest country must hold a referendum on the independence of the South in January 2011.
Sudan has announced November 14 as the starting date for voter registration for the country's referendum.