(Reuters) – Northern and southern Sudanese leaders began negotiations on Saturday on issues including how to share oil revenues after a January 2011 referendum on southern independence.
Here are some questions and answers on the talks, which are expected to last six months.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
The referendum was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest civil war — a decades-long conflict between north and south Sudan in which an estimated 2 million people were killed and 4 million forced to flee their homes.
The accord gave southerners the right to decide whether to stay in Sudan or declare independence.
Analysts have warned there is a risk of a return to war unless the two sides resolve many contentious issues before the vote.
A southern vote for secession and the creation of a new country could fuel separatist dreams in other African states.
WHAT ARE THE NEGOTIATIONS ABOUT?
The two sides will produce plans for two scenarios — a vote for unity and a vote for separation.
If, as many analysts expect, separation is the outcome, the negotiators will have to package it in a way that is acceptable to both parties. If either side feels like losers, the opportunities for conflict will increase.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN TOPICS?
North Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have agreed to cover four main areas:
FINANCIAL, ECONOMIC AND NATURAL RESOURCES
The most intense negotiations will focus on the division of Sudan’s natural assets and massive debts.
Most of Sudan’s oil — about 78 percent according to the Economist Intelligence Unit — is produced in the south, which would have to share the oil revenue with the north after a split. At present, the only way for the south to get its oil to market is through northern pipelines to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Persistent distrust between the civil war foes means they will have to find a clear way of reporting those revenues so that neither feels short-changed, campaign group Global Witness said in a report this week.
The south will also have to negotiate its share of the White Nile water that flows through its territory at a time of growing tension between Nile-side countries over water supplies.
There are up to 2 million southerners living in north Sudan as refugees or long-term migrants, and a smaller number of northerners living in the south. The campaign group Refugees International says many of these will be left stateless and vulnerable if the country splits. The talks will cover their nationality as well as property and investment rights. Negotiators will also tackle the nationality of nomadic groups who move their livestock over the border.
Talks will focus on the status of thousands of northern and southern soldiers serving together in the Joint Integrated Units set up under the 2005 accord, many of them in contentious border areas. Northern and southern leaders are at loggerheads over the position of their shared border. Given the lack of progress over the past five years, southerners may have to vote for independence without a clear idea of where their new territory starts and ends. The two sides will have to agree on ways of resolving conflicts and policing the border.
INTERNATIONAL TREATIES AND LEGAL ISSUES
The two sides will list the international organizations and treaties that Sudan has joined over the years and work out how far they would cover an independent south.
(Reporting by Andrew Heavens, editing by Tim Pearce)