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Sudan. Expectations running high in advance of January 2011 referendum

Juba/Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels - Sudan’s North and South must take political action to define their mutual boundary if they hope to avoid future complications, including a return to conflict.

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Sudan: Defining the North-South Border, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses how the still undefined boundary line has hindered implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), fuelled mistrust between its two signatory parties and contributed to heightened anxiety along the border. As the country’s oil resources are concentrated in these areas, the political and economic implications of border demarcation have been amplified, and some border areas remain dangerously militarised.

The CPA called for the border between the North and the semi-autonomous South to be demarcated within six months. Five years later, the task remains incomplete. The deliberations of the technical body tasked to draw the line have been exhausted and its work plagued by a poisoned atmosphere. While most of the border has been agreed, five specific areas are disputed on technical grounds; still others remain contested in the public arena. Breaking the border deadlock is no longer a task for technocrats, but for the political leaderships in Khartoum and Juba.

“A solution to the border is not only about drawing a line, but about defining the nature and management of that border and the future relations of communities on both sides”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst. “Completing these two tasks would go a long way toward preventing the border from becoming a source of renewed conflict in the post-CPA era”.

Expectations and emotions are running high in advance of the January 2011 referendum, in which Southern Sudanese will decide whether to remain united with the North or to secede. Some border populations fear the outcome could result in a hardening of the border and thus be a threat to their livelihood. In negotiating post-referendum arrangements, the long-ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) must work to assuage these fears. Regardless of the referendum outcome, the parties should agree on a broad framework for cross-border arrangements, one that addresses citizenship, cross-border movement and seasonal migration, economic activity and security.

“Progress toward a mutually-beneficial package may lessen the potential impact of where exactly the disputed boundary is drawn in the end”, says Vertin.

True stability will also depend in part on the extent to which local actors feel they have had some role in defining future border management and trans-border relations. A framework should allow space for local agreements, and the NCP and SPLM should establish a channel through which border communities can feed directly in to the negotiations on cross-border arrangements.

“The ideal post-referendum scenario is one in which the parties and their border constituencies can achieve the softest border possible. If necessary, a joint monitoring mechanism may help to safeguard that border, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the people on both sides”, says E.J. Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Acting Africa Program Director. “Progress on these fronts will help to prevent Sudan, whether as one country or two, from falling back into conflict”.

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