Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold elections next year and a referendum on independence in 2011, but as an old saying goes, the devil is in the details.
U.S.-mediated talks between Northern and Southern Sudan on how those votes should be held have stalled and there's growing concern over the failure to fully implement to 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). That agreement ended over 20 years of civil war.
A growing number of observers say they fear the problems raise the risk of renewed war between the north and the south. And they warn it could be worse than before.
Douglas Johnson, an independent scholar and author of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars, says he's not surprised by problems in the current north-south negotiations.
"They were actually imbedded in the peace talks. A number of things were left to be resolved later on with no real mechanism for an international input or a neutral mediator to make sure that these were resolved in time."
He says jump starting the talks won't be easy.
"I think that we have to look at what are the major priorities in continuing peaceful resolution. The real priority is the referendum. I know that a lot of people say that if the elections don't take place you can't have a referendum. That's not the case as far as the language of the peace agreement is concerned," says Johnson.
The referendum needs to be a "genuine reflection of the intentions of the people of the south," he says.
Risk of war
Johnson gives several reasons for a growing risk of renewed civil war between the north and south.
"There's been a great deal of resistance on the part of the (ruling) NCP to implement it (peace agreement) to the letter and on time. We've seen this in a number of areas where they feel that the implementation hasn't been going their way. They are obstructive and try to, in effect, renegotiate the peace agreement," he says.
Southern Sudanese leaders share the blame, he says.
"The SPLM (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) has been somewhat disorganized in its administration of the Southern Sudan. It doesn't show itself to be committed to full participation in the government of national unity."
Johnson says the National Congress Party looks on the CPA as a way of "maintaining the unity of the country and their predominant political position?. The SPLM sees it as way of going towards independence for the Southern Sudan."
Affected, but not included
"I think one of the real problems is that the CPA and the people who negotiated it, the outside mediators, didn't realize that this was more than just a north-south problem," he says.
Other areas of Sudan affected by the civil war have not been fully included in the peace deal, he says, including the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile in eastern Sudan.
"So, even if the south does vote to separate, this is going to leave residual problems in the Sudan, which haven't been really effectively addressed by the CPA," Johnson says.
Recommendations for success
"I think it (referendum) has to be run by an international commission?.. The voting has got to be supervised internationally and not just by the two parties. I think that there has to be a resolution about whether it is going to be just those people living in the Southern Sudan in 2011 or other Sudanese, southern Sudanese, living outside of the Southern Sudan."
Also, he says, the ruling party wants to set an "unrealistic" high standard for the referendum with at least a 75 percent majority needed before independence could be granted.
"(It) doesn't follow the spirit of the CPA. I think a clear majority has to be the goal for a referendum. But the question about what it means for the south to separate from the north has to be clearly defined," he says.