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Latest News Last Updated: Jan 29, 2010 - 7:31:25 AM

Sudan census dispute threatens national polls: foreign minister

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Sudan census dispute threatens national polls: foreign minister

Fri Jan 29, 2010 1:56pm GMT

By Duncan Miriri

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Sudan risks a boycott of the forthcoming national assembly elections by the southern part of the country if a dispute over last year's census data is not sorted out, the foreign minister said on Friday.

The south accuses the north of manipulating the results of the census to deny the south adequate representation in parliament, commensurate with its size, in order to pass self-serving legislation.

The north-south dispute also highlights the importance of oil resources in the region, which are a vital source of revenue for the government of Sudan.

Figures from the census put the number of Sudanese living in the south at about 20 percent of the total population, irking southern leaders who cite previous counts which put the number at about a third of the population.

Talks between both sides to reach a consensus were put on hold and they are expected to resume next month.

"It has to be resolved otherwise the south will not participate in the elections of national parliament," Deng Alor, who hails from the south, told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union meeting.

"I'm confident that this issue will be resolved because it is not in the interest of the National Congress that the south does not participate in the elections at the level of national parliament."

The Christian and animist south signed a peace agreement with the mainly Muslim north in January 2005, ending more than two decades of civil war and charting a path to a vote on independence for the south, next year.

Southerners are worried a parliament dominated by northern lawmakers would throw the terms of the agreement out of the window, Alor said, justifying a boycott of the national assembly election due to be held in April.

"There is politics behind it ... there is a possibility of the national parliament changing the (2005) agreement, even changing the right to self determination for the people of south Sudan if there is no reasonable blocking minority," Alor said.

Civil society groups and the AU fear the disputes in Sudan could set the stage for violence during the vote or after.

"Everybody is conscious about this. Everybody knows that it is an explosive situation. Everybody is very careful that this issue is resolved and resolved adequately. Nobody wants war, nobody wants insecurity," Alor said.

"While we admit -- like a powder keg -- that the situation is chaotic we are still hopeful the issues could be handled and resolved."

Alor added that the problems revolved around the country's oil sector where foreign firms are active.

"Sudan has been dependent on the oil revenues and Sudan has neglected the non-oil revenues. Ninety percent of Sudan's budget is dependent on oil and 90 percent of the oil is in the south."

"So if the south separates in 2011 then the north is going to be in a very bad situation economically so what is at the centre is the politics of the money."

The foreign minister added the relationship between Sudan and Chad had improved after bitter rows in recent years.

"The relationship between Chad and Sudan is good. At least the level of political hostility has reduced we have normalised diplomatic relations between the two countries, we are on talking terms with Chad," he said.

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