Close to 99 percent of south Sudanese chose to secede from the north in a landmark January 9-15 referendum, according to the first complete preliminary results announced on Sunday.
Earlier partial results had put the outcome of the vote beyond doubt but official figures were announced publicly for the first time during a ceremony attended by president Salva Kiir in the southern capital Juba.
The discreet leader, who is to steer southern Sudan to statehood in July after overseeing a six-year transition period, said the more than two million victims of the 1983-2005 civil war did not die in vain.
|A South Sudanese soldier stands guard outside a cultural center in Juba|
Chan Reec, the chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in charge of polling in the south, said a whopping 99.57 percent of those who voted in the south chose secession.
Turnout in the south stood at 99 percent and only 16,129 people voted for Africa's largest country to remain united, said Reec, whose announcement was met by cheers from the crowd.
Mohamed Khalil Ibrahim, who chairs the overall referendum commission, said 58 percent of southerners residing in the north and 99 percent of overseas voters chose to break away.
"The results just announced are decisive," he said.
Updated figures published on the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission's website and accounting for 100 percent of ballots cast in both the north and the south gave secession an overwhelming 98.83 percent of the vote.
Kiir said he was not surprised by the almost unanimous decision to secede.
"I assured you southerners would vote over 90 percent and now you have proved me right," he said after the results were announced.
The former rebel commander paid homage to the victims of the war.
"We will never forget them and they will remain in our history," he said in front of diplomats and officials at former rebel leader John Garang's mausoleum.
"I want to assure them and their families that these people did not die in vain," he added.
The revered Garang died in a plane crash shortly after signing the January 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of conflict between the black Christian-dominated south and the mainly Arab Muslim north.
The emotional week-long referendum, which saw huge lines of dancing and praying voters form outside polling stations long before dawn on the first day of voting, was the centrepiece of the peace deal.
The ceremony in Juba Sunday ended in wild dancing to songs celebrating "the promised land."
"We have shown them in the north that we want to be free. We stand a whisker away from independence, so today we dance for our better futures," said James Madut, a student and one of the revellers.
The international community has praised a ballot that allayed fears the defining moment in southern Sudan's history would be marred by violence.
Norwegian Minister of the Environment and Development Erik Solheim, whose country is a member of the troika that sponsored the 2005 deal, said the southern Sudanese people had "spoken with absolute clarity."
In Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who spearheaded the north's efforts to quash the rebellion during much of the 1983-2005 civil war, has already recognised the prospect of partition.
Earlier this month, he described the south's decision to become the world's 193rd state as "a new beginning" and expressed hope the two countries would enjoy "brotherly" relations, in comments that drew rare praise from Washington.
Kiir reciprocated his "brother" Bashir's declaration of goodwill and said in his speech: "We must stand with him."
The southern leadership has consistently urged voters to respect the timeline leading to full statehood. And Kiir, who is expected at the African Union heads of state summit that opened Sunday in Addis Ababa, again stressed caution was paramount.
"What did you think I would do here? Declare the independence of southern Sudan? We cannot do that. Let us respect the agreement. We go slowly, so that we reach safely where we are going," Kiir said.
"People must remain patient up until the full independence is declared."