WASHINGTON, DC – Sudan sits at the proverbial crossroads between potential peace and possible nationwide conflict, which would undoubtedly become the world’s deadliest conventional war in 2011. A referendum on South Sudan’s independence, scheduled for January 9, 2011, will likely split the country in two, with southerners finally achieving the freedom for which they have long fought. Such an outcome, however, would also leave the South with most of Sudan’s oil reserves.
Little wonder, then, that on the precipice of this historic moment, there are many snakes in the grass. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) appears poised to challenge the result of the referendum. Critical negotiations between the NCP in the North and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the South on issues that divide the North and South have stalled. The Sudanese armed forces have bombed areas along the North-South border. In Darfur, the human rights and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, and the peace process there has made little headway.
All of this should be seen in the context of the NCP’s long track record of human-rights abuses and reneging on agreements. For more than 20 years, the Sudanese government fought a war against the South, in which more than two million people died. It has committed genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, where about 400,000 people have died. The NCP has a history of dividing and manipulating groups to achieve its aims, and it regularly ignores its commitments.
As part of the effort to support negotiations over the post-referendum issues that could lead to renewed North-South war, the United States has presented a range of incentives for the parties to choose peace and has committed to imposing serious measures should they choose violence.