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Sudan former foes strike pre-vote deal on contested census
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Feb 27, 2010 - 7:33:53 AM

Sudan former foes strike pre-vote deal on contested census

JUBA, Sudan Former foes in north and south Sudan have struck a deal on contested census results by boosting the south?s representation in the national parliament, a southern leader said on Friday.

The semi-autonomous south will be allocated an extra 40 seats in the national assembly, after the south?s ruling Sudan Peoples? Liberation Movement (SPLM) rejected census results that they said undercounted their population.

The dispute had threatened to worsen the already tense relations between the ex-rebel SPLM and the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), which signed a peace agreement to end a 22-year civil war in 2005.

"The SPLM and the NCP agreed that 40 additional seats would be given to the south in the national parliament," said Anne Itto, the SPLM?s deputy secretary general in the south.

The south reacted furiously to the census results announced last year that calculated their part of Sudan?s 39 million population at 21 percent, rather than the one-third estimate agreed in the 2005 peace deal.

Many southerners feared if parliamentary seats were distributed on the basis of the census results, the north would reach the 75-percent margin needed to scupper an independence referendum for the south, slated for January 2011.

"Although it appeared to be the 11th hour, we have passed the danger line," Itto told reporters in the southern capital of Juba.

"It will bring up the representation of the south from 21 percent to 27 percent, which is enough to block any amendments in the constitution."

South Sudan was left in ruins by the civil war with the north during which about two million people were killed, in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology, resources and oil.

Tensions remain high between the mainly Muslim north and the grossly underdeveloped south, most of whose inhabitants are Christian or follow traditional beliefs.

In addition, the deal hammered out between SPLM and NCP officials allocated two more seats for the flashpoint border region of Abyei and four for the oil state of Southern Kordofan.

The decision comes ahead of elections in April, Sudan?s first multi-party elections in 24 years, although Itto said the extra seats would be appointed after the polls with smaller southern parties also represented.

Itto said the contested state of Southern Kordofan would take part in the elections for president, governor and the national assembly, overturning an earlier boycott threat by the SPLM in the troubled region.

However, critical polls for the state assembly will be pushed back until a thorough census has been conducted, Itto added.

"They (Southern Kordofan) got what they wanted: state elections to be deferred to a later date, anytime before the end of the interim period, but after a serious census has been conducted," Itto said.

The peace deal has a six-year interim period which runs out in July 2011.

The state assembly is key as its elected members will hold "popular consultations" on the future of the Southern Kordofan region, which unlike the south of the country does not have an agreed independence referendum.

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