* Sudan to hold parliamentary and presidential votes in 2010
* Former southern rebels cautiously welcome the move
* Dominant party says would welcome observers
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By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, April 2 (Reuters) - Sudan will hold parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2010, a major step toward implementing a frayed north-south peace deal although the vote will take place later than planned.
The vote would be the first democratic national election in more than 20 years in Sudan, and is the centrepiece of a 2005 peace deal that ended over two decades of north-south civil war, a conflict separate from violence in Darfur.
"The results will be declared by the end of February. The voting will take place earlier in the month," Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, deputy chairman of Sudan’s National Electoral Commission, told Reuters on Thursday.
Abdullah said six elections would be held — for the presidency and parliament, the south Sudanese presidency, state governors, the southern parliament and state assemblies.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is under growing pressure over Darfur, where international experts say 200,000 people have been killed in almost six years of ethnic and politically driven fighting.
The International Criminal Court last month issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on accusations of war crimes in Darfur, where Khartoum says 10,000 people have died.
MORE WORK NEEDED
Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior official in the dominant National Congress Party, welcomed the commission’s decision.
"The most positive thing to us is that now the election is in process. We hope that this will be the start for all political parties of going towards fair and transparent elections," he said, adding that his party would welcome local, regional and international election observers.
Yien Matthew, spokesman for the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which now runs the government of semi-autonomous south Sudan, said: "The date is okay. The SPLM abides by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and respects the decision of the commission."
Another political leader added there was widespread acceptance of the dates.
"There is a general consensus about these dates. No party is opposed to them up to now," said Mohammed Ibrahim Nugud, head of the opposition Sudanese Communist Party.
National elections for Sudan had originally been scheduled for July, ahead of a referendum on southern independence expected by 2011 in line with the north-south peace accord.
"The elections are a major milestone in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and for the whole of Sudan," said Derek Plumbly, chairman of the Assessment and Evaluation Commission that monitors the north-south peace deal.
"A lot of things still need to happen ... Legislation has to be passed to create the right environment for the elections, and a lot of practical work still needs to be done," he added.
According to an elections timetable seen by Reuters, polling is due to run from Feb. 6-21 and announcement of final results should be made on Feb. 27. But the dates could be adjusted slightly depending on long-delayed results of a census.
Preparations for the vote were already delayed, with issues such as the position of the north-south border unresolved.
A U.N. panel of experts suggested last year that Sudan delay elections by at least four months because of expected heavy rains and logistical problems. Southerners worry that an election during the rainy season could depress turnout.
Northern and southern armies have clashed on occasion since the 2005 peace deal, most recently last year in the central oil region town of Abyei, claimed by both north and south. (Additional reporting by Skye Wheeler in Juba and Khaled Abdel Aziz in Khartoum; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Alastair Sharp in Cairo; Editing by Charles Dick)