Home | News    Tuesday 18 December 2007

Sudan’s census delayed to April 2008


KHARTOUM, Dec 17 (Reuters) — Sudan’s census has been delayed again to April next year but the United Nations is still hopeful this will not hinder elections due before July 2009, the new head of the U.N. mission in Sudan said on Monday.

Sudan’s former north-south foes signed a landmark peace agreement in 2005 ending Africa’s longest civil war. But slow implementation led the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to withdraw from national government in protest.

The partners in peace have resolved their differences over most issues including funding the census and the SPLM will return to government soon, officials said.

"The beginning of the census has... been postponed from February to April (2008)," Ashraf Qazi told reporters in his first news conference since taking office in October.

Sudan’s rainy season begins in May until September and cuts off access to large swathes of the country, but Qazi said there was still hope the census would be completed ahead of the rains.

"We do hope there would not be further delays ... we hope to have the elections on schedule before July 2009," he added.

He said the delay gave more time to prepare for the census.

One issue yet to be resolved is whether questions on religion and ethnicity will be included in the census. The northern National Congress Party had rejected these questions whereas the SPLM wants them included.

Religion and ethnicity were factors in the north-south conflict which has raged on and off since 1955. The mostly African, Christian and animist south felt marginalised by the Arab-dominated, Islamic government in Khartoum. The conflict killed 2 million and drove at least 4 million from their homes.

The two sides missed a July 9 deadline to redeploy their forces from either side of the north-south border but have agreed to complete this by the end of the year, they said.

Qazi said the redeployment would help ease tensions on the north-south border which have run high since the SPLM froze its participation in national government.

But he said there was no plan to deploy any of the almost 11,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s south along the border, a job which would be left to joint units from the north and south armies.

"The JIUs (Joint Integrated Units) would be there and the international community ... would be prepared to assist in training and helping them," he said.

Qazi said Sudan was an "extraordinarily important" U.N. mission. However the world body took a year to fill his post after predecessor Jan Pronk was expelled for saying Sudanese army soldiers were demoralised after defeats by Darfur rebels.

Sudan’s north-south conflict has been largely overshadowed in recent years by a newer revolt in Sudan’s western Darfur region. Qazi’s mandate will cover only the north-south conflict.


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