South Sudan says it will not be bound by census

JUBA, Sudan
April 16, 2008 (AFP)

South Sudan said on Wednesday it was unlikely to accept the results of a national census after its northern former enemy insisted that the survey, crucial to a fragile peace agreement, go ahead.

"We are not bound by the outcome of the census if it is carried out by the presidency," south Sudan Information Minister Gabriel Changson Chang told AFP after President Omar el-Beshir ordered that the survey go ahead despite southern doubts.

Chang said on Monday that the census, originally due to take place on April 15, had been deferred until later this year, but Beshir subsequently issued a decree insisting that it proceed next week.

Cash-flow problems and logistic headaches have dogged preparations for the repeatedly delayed population count, a crucial part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Africa's longest-running civil war.

Chang said that it is "a very difficult if not impossible proposition" for the north to address southern objections to the way the census is being prepared before it starts on April 22.

Southern concerns focus on the repatriation of internally displaced and refugees to the south, making funds available for security and adequate provision of census forms in the appropriate language.

"I don't know what credible results will come out of that," Chang said, complaining about "a lot of discrepancies" over forms in Arabic going to areas where Arabic is not properly spoken and in English to Arabic-speaking areas.

The census is to prepare for voter registration for elections due in 2009. Its results will also redraw or confirm the ratio of power-sharing between north and south in the central government.

Beshir's National Congress party, which sits in an uneasy coalition with the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement, condemned the boycott and called for the decision to be revoked.

Southern leaders cited the north's rejection of any questions about ethnicity or religion in the census returns as a reason for the delay, although UN overseers had said a compromise had been reached between the two sides.

"We want to dispute that Sudan is an Arab country... The Africans are the majority in Sudan," Chang said. "So we want to dispute that and to do that we must have a credible document to refer to."

The Arab domination of power in what is Africa's largest country was a major reason for the two-decade civil war between north and south, as well as for the separate five-year conflict in the western Darfur region.

Chang said that the south was not ready for the census as authorities had received only 110 of the 400 vehicles they need to be able to carry it out.

The rainy season and other access problems would mean that fewer than five million people in the south would be counted, and as a result "our population will be very small" with a knock-on effect on power- and wealth-sharing, Chang said.


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