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Australia Urged to Open More Centers for Expatriate Sudanese Voters

Australia is being asked to open more locations for Sudanese expatriates to register and vote in an independence referendum being held in their homeland next January.

There is great excitement in Australia's growing Sudanese community about January's referendum, which could see Africa's largest country split in two.

The majority of the Sudanese in Australia are from the south of country, which seeks to secede from the northern portion.

In Australia, voter registration centers opened this week in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

The International Organization of Migration wants to open other facilities in Queensland and Western Australia to accommodate Sudanese who may live thousands of kilometers from those three centers. The IOM is helping coordinate voting the referendum for the tens of thousands of Sudanese living overseas.

Officials estimate there are about 20,000 Sudanese in Australia. Most are Christians from the southern part of the country in northeastern Africa. They are one of the fastest growing groups in Australia. During the past decade the number of new Sudanese arrivals increased by an average of 34 percent each year, most of them refugees.

Michael Clancy, the director of the IOM's office setting up polling stations in Australia, wants to establish more referendum centers on opposite sides of the continent.

"We believe we can do that. We would need the help of the community and we of course would need extra funding but we need the South Sudan Referendum Commission to give us the go-ahead to assist to open these centers in Perth and Brisbane," he said.

A representative from the South Sudan Referendum Commission arrived in Australia this week to discuss the IOM's request.

The IOM expects a fairly high turnout for registration and voting.

The referendum on independence is part of a 2005 peace deal to end years of civil war in Sudan, which killed two million people.

Analysts say the enthusiasm in the south of Sudan ahead of the January 9 vote is not matched in the north, where the authorities are worried about a loss of income from the oil-rich south.