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After Decades of Delay, Sudan Ready to Conduct Census

With just one month to go before a scheduled nationwide population and housing census ahead of 2009 general elections in Sudan, U.N. officials and regional leaders are confident they will succeed. But they admit there may be some delays and inaccuracies, especially in the war-ravaged Darfur. Sabina Castlefranco reports for VOA from Khartoum.

Sudan needs to conduct a nationwide census before scheduled general elections can be held next year. For a number of reasons, including waiting for the north-south peace process to be concluded and the huge number of internally displaced people by two decades of civil war, the census planned for 2003 has been repeatedly delayed.

According to U.N. figures, 4.6 million people were displaced largely from southern Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 between north and south Sudan brought an end to the conflict.

The chief of public information for the U.N. Mission in Sudan, Khaled Mansour, says that since then, there has been a steady and voluntary return of internally displaced people.

"We believe over the last three years close to two million people have already returned, either refugees from the seven neighboring countries or displaced people largely from the north and they returned south," said Mansour.

At this stage, Mansour says he is confident the census will go ahead. He says the mapping of enumeration areas has been under way for some time and the U.N. has begun delivering materials. He adds that Sudanese will be counted wherever they are on the night of the 14th - 15th April and they will indicate where they come from.

"I think the census will happen," he said. "I hope it happens everywhere in the country and it becomes a success. It's very important because it's a step, it's a milestone of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the sense that the more acts you take in implementation of the peace agreement, the more credibility and trust you have from the people."

The population count in Sudan will end April 30. While other attempts were made in 1973, 1983 and 1993, this year's will be the country's first all inclusive nationwide census effort since the country gained independence in 1956. Officials say it will require huge efforts by the government in terms of mobilization of resources.

One critical area where observers agree it will be extremely difficult to carry out the census is Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have yet to return to their villages. But the governor of Northern Darfur State, Osman Yousef Kibir, says arrangements have been made for the census to go ahead.

Kibir admits there may be some errors and inaccuracies due to difficulties in access to some of the areas, but this will not have a great effect on the result of the census.

He says the Sudanese government is in control of the areas around the three capitals of the three Darfur states, Al Fashir, Njala and El Geneina, where most of the camps of internally displaced people are based.