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Sudan Planning for Return of Refugees

The government of Sudan, in partnership with the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, is gearing up for a registration campaign aimed at helping 150,000 displaced southern Sudanese to return home by the end of 2008.

Partners say they expect the upcoming campaign to register 100,000 southerners for voluntary return by February, 2007.

Some four million southern Sudanese fled their villages during the 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan.

More than two million people died during the prolonged conflict, which ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in January, 2005.

Birgit Hussfeld of the International Organization for Migration in Khartoum tells VOA the guided return process is the first of its kind in Sudan.

"The ideal outcome is that everything will go along orderly and that many people will register and that we get the necessary data as soon as possible to start planning the first facilitated return," Hussfeld says.

The registration campaign is taking place at mobile registration centers in and around the capital, Khartoum.

Some two million displaced southerners live in the area, often in slums and squalid camps for the displaced, which lack basic services like water and electricity.

Southern Sudanese have also long complained that they face racial discrimination in the Afro-Arab north, making it difficult for them to get jobs.

The return process is challenging. Much of southern Sudan's infrastructure was destroyed during the war and the region lacks school, hospitals and most basic services. Armed militias still roam much of the south and localized violence will present a threat to returnees.

The 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan was fought primarily over religion and resources including the south's vast, untapped oil reserves.

In 1983, Sudan's Muslim north attempted to Arabize the mainly Christian and animist south.

The Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement waged a long rebellion against the north, before signing a peace deal with former northern foes in 2005.

That deal granted southern Sudan an autonomous government and the right to vote in a 2011 referendum on whether to remain united with northern Sudan or secede and form a separate nation.

The majority of southern Sudanese say they will vote for secession.

Along with planned voluntary return campaigns, tens of thousands of southerners have spontaneously returned since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.