The impasse between the two Sudanese governing partners has grown wider as the South's ruling party pulled out of the national Cabinet to join its party members' boycott in parliament. The vice president of Sudan, who is also the president of South Sudan, angered Khartoum this weekend by urging his fellow southerners to choose secession in an upcoming independence referendum.
The statement by South Sudan's leading political figure was the first time Salva Kiir had publicly announced his desire for an independent southern Sudan. In the 2005 peace agreement ending the North-South civil war, the two sides promised to work towards making a united Sudan look attractive during the interim period before the key referendum.
South Sudan's president reportedly told a church congregation in the South's capital city, Juba, that to vote for a united Sudan was to choose second-hand citizenship at the hands of the North.
Members of the North's ruling National Congress Party have responded harshly to the reported comments, accusing the South of failing to fulfill its part of the political deal.
Two weeks ago the the South's ruling Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement announced a boycott of parliament, depriving the government of a legislative majority. On Saturday the SPLM government ministers suspended participation in the national Cabinet in a move of solidarity with its parliamentary bloc.
The South is protesting the stalled negotiations for the referendum bill, which is to finalize the details of the January 2011 vote.
SPLM Vice President Riek Machar announced a couple weeks ago that he had struck a breakthrough deal with the NCP on the referendum. But the southern party pulled out of the deal after an outcry over an agreement that a two-thirds voting quorum had to be reached on referendum day for the vote to count.
The two parties are also split over security laws the SPLM and northern opposition parties say give the state too much authority, making free and fair election campaigning unlikely.
The Government of South Sudan's envoy in Nairobi, John Andruga Duku, says that it will be Khartoum's fault if the South decides to break away, saying the NCP has not made SPLM an equal partner in the unity government.
"SPLM has constantly said that making unity attractive, it is not made by South Sudan," said John Andruga Duku. "South Sudan can not make unity attractive. It is Khartoum and the National Congress [Party], because they are the ones who should make unity attractive for the South Sudan. The South has nothing to make attractive because they have been marginalized from the beginning until this moment."
The nation's massive voter registration drive started Sunday. Elections scheduled for April 2010 would mark the first national democratic vote in more than two decades.
One analyst who spoke to VOA suggested that the Mr. Kiir's remarks are best interpreted as political posturing by the SPLM, as the South's ruling party begins campaigning to shore up its support in the South prior to elections. Reports indicate that southern Sudanese overwhelmingly favor independence.
Southern Sudan fought a long and brutal insurrection against the North, during which about two million people have died since 1983.
The founder and leader of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, John Garang, died in a helicopter just months after signing the peace pact. Salva Kiir took over as first vice president of Sudan and president of South Sudan after the leader's death.
U.S. special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration was in Juba during the weekend to meet with SPLM officials. He was in Khartoum to hold talks with senior officials in NCP.