Registration for referendum over south Sudan’s future set for mid-November after much delay

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sudan referendum registration to begin mid-Nov.

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Registration for a crucial referendum over southern Sudan’s independence will begin in mid-November after much delay, the chairman of the southern Sudan’s referendum commission said Sunday.

The preparations for the Jan. 9 vote have proceeded haltingly amid political and logistic obstacles and the southerners have accused the northerners of stalling, warning of violence if the vote is delayed.

A condition of the peace agreement that ended the two decade long civil war, the vote is open to all southerners whether they live in the north or the south, but determining who is eligible to vote has also been a source of tension.

A contested 2008 population census indicates there are some half a million southerners in the north. But southerners accuse the north of inflating the numbers with their own supporters.

The northern government has also laid down a new series of conditions for the referendum, including completely demarcating the long borders and the redeployment of southern forces, further provoking the south’s ire.

On Sunday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir assured southerners living in the north that their rights would be protected even if the south voted for secession and reiterated his government’s commitment to holding the contest on time.

The logistics of organizing the vote across the massive underdeveloped south also poses great challenges.

Voter lists were supposed to have already been finalized by this time according to the 2005 peace agreement. At least 2 million people died during the war, which left the vast oil-rich south devastated and underdeveloped.

Commission chairman Mohammed Khalil said the registration process is set to start around mid-November, leaving the commission just six weeks to register voters and finalize the lists.

Khalil said his commission has only now begun recruiting the more than 10,000 referendum workers needed to man the 3,600 polling centers.

Khalil said that 2,000 of the polling centers will be in the south and 1,600 in the north and abroad.

The commission’s budget is still not finalized and only a few international observers are in place for the referendum.

A U.N. Security Council delegation is set to visit Sudan this week where they are expected to review preparations for the referendum.

The border region of Abyei — where much of Sudan’s oil is located — will be holding a similar vote the same day to choose whether the region will be part of the north or a possible new country in the south.

The composition of the supervising commission and questions over who is eligible to vote were to be discussed in an internationally sponsored meeting starting Sunday in Ethiopia. U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, was set to attend.

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