Sudan delays census until February 2008

September 2, 2007 (Reuters)

Sudan has delayed until February a national census seen as crucial to the success of democratic elections and a vote on secession for the oil-rich south, the United Nations said on Sunday.

The census was postponed because of delays in funding, but the coalition Government of National Unity (GONU) had now pledged to put up the money, said the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which is helping to organise the two-week census.

The census will be the first since a January 2005 peace deal between the north’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) and the former southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), that ended decades of north-south conflict and established the unity government.

"The census date is shifted from 15th November, 2007 to 2nd February, 2008," the UNFPA said in a newsletter.

"The GONU committed itself to providing its share of $54.2 million," it said. It added that GONU also agreed to release $30 million by the end of October.

The international community agreed to provide additional funds. "Donors agreed to provide their $22 million contribution immediately," the UNPFA said.

Census officials in the south had accused the central government in Khartoum of stalling payment of its share of the costs for the census.

In spite of strong opposition from the SPLM, the census questionnaire omits ethnicity and religion.

Religion was a contentious issue in the war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and the animist and Christian south.

The conflict, which killed 2 million people and drove some 4 million from their homes, was also complicated by issues of oil, ethnicity and ideology.

The NCP and SPLM still have to agree on the north-south boundary. Most of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels per day of crude comes from oil fields in the south, but some fall along the boundary and are disputed.

Officials organized a pilot census in April in 25 of Sudan’s 26 states and according to the United Nations, despite problems, "it was competed successfully."

The UNFPA said preparations for the actual census were underway, but that challenges remained, particularly for reaching people in remote areas.

It said field mapping had been completed in the north except for the three states of Darfur. In the south, officials expect field mapping to be completed in October.

Government officials have also said the census is vital for fair distribution of resources and to determine development priorities, especially in the south.



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