[JUBA] The release of referendum results for Southern Sudan’s historic independence showing that 98.83 percent voted for secession means formal independence is scheduled for 9 July 2011, but key challenges still remain to be negotiated.
These issues, observers say, must now be hammered out by the two ruling parties - the north's National Congress Party (NCP) and the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the international community "to assist all Sudanese towards greater stability and development", while US President Barack Obama welcomed the "successful and inspiring referendum” but urged north and south to work quickly on post-referendum arrangements.
The often rocky relationship between the two parties has been eased by the swift acceptance of the results by President Omar al-Bashir, but observers note that progress on negotiations has so far has been slow, with the south accusing the north of dragging its heels. Some fear the north will now seek to extract a high price from the south for its separation.
Below are some key issues that have to be negotiated between now and July:
Abyei - The contested border region was due to hold a separate referendum at the same time as the south, when its residents would decide whether to become part of the north or south. But progress on that vote remains in deadlock, with the largely northern-supported Misseriya community - who travel through the region annually to graze their cattle - demanding a right to vote. The largely southern-supported Dinka Ngok people reject that demand, and southerners say only permanent residents should be allowed to vote. The area's future is expected to be wrapped into the huge negotiations ahead, with the south demanding it be ceded directly to join the new nation.
Oil and water - A new deal must be agreed to renegotiate the current equal sharing of oil pumped in the south. The economies on both sides depend hugely on oil - forming 98 percent of the southern government budget. Oil reserves lie mainly in the south but all pipelines run north. For once, observers hope oil can provide a factor for peace, as for either to benefit, the future two states will be forced to cooperate post-secession.
In addition, negotiations will have to be agreed on the future sharing of Nile river water, an issue that neighbouring Egypt will be watching keenly, reluctant to see its share of the river cut.
Debt - Sudan's crippling debt, estimated at US$38 billion, remains a major concern. It is an emotional issue: the southerners say Khartoum spent the cash on arms during the 1983-2005 civil war. The north wants to obtain international debt forgiveness to allow fresh loans, but that would still take many years. Persuading the south to take on some of that will be hard, but the north hopes that the south could then expect to have it written off more easily.
Citizenship - Concern remains for the many Sudanese living in the border areas, as well as southerners and northerners based in the 'other' side of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of southerners remain in Khartoum, but the north has so far appeared reluctant to accept any dual nationality status. The south would reportedly like people to be able to choose.
Borders - Sudan's giant north-south border remains un-demarcated, with progress slow on fixing the boundaries. Negotiations are based on colonial era maps as the border stood at Sudan’s independence in 1956, but with the frontier crossing oil and mineral rich areas, the issue is contentious.
Returnees - More than 180,000 southerners have returned from the north in the past three months, adding pressure to communities already struggling to cope. Major humanitarian and development problems remain. According to Refugees International, 22,000 southerners are stranded in and around Khartoum still waiting for transportation to the south.
Conflict -The south proved the critics warning of war wrong: the voting period was peaceful. Acceptance of the result by the NCP has allayed fears of north-south conflict. However, tensions remain in the volatile south. Clashes in early February between armed factions in the south's oil rich Upper Nile state left over 50 dead, and showed the potential for violence. Southern Sudan has been accused of hosting Darfuri rebel leaders fighting Khartoum, while the north is accused of backing militias battling the southern army. Both deny the charges.
Economy - Sudan's economy is struggling, with high demands for foreign currency, rising inflation and a recent slide in the value of the Sudanese pound. Price hikes on basic goods are hitting the poorest the hardest, while Khartoum remains concerned about political unrest, following popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The two sides must also fix their currency, and decide whether a replacement for the Sudanese pound will be introduced. Rumours in early February that the north plans to scrap the pound saw its value plummet.
Building a southern identity - Without a common northern enemy, many fear fractures within the south. Leaders must work to bring together often disparate groups, including opposition forces and those outside the mainstream SPLM movement.
Tackling corruption - Southern Sudan will rely on international donors to rebuild a land left in ruins by years of war. But it will have to ensure it strengthens its efforts to curb corruption to avoid losing wider support.
Darfur - The war-torn western region remains a major concern with conflict continuing. Khartoum has pulled out of peace talks and returned to fighting against the only rebels they signed an agreement with, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction of Minni Minnawi. Some fear that the south's preparations to break away will embolden rebels to increase their demands from Khartoum.
Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State - Key battlegrounds in the civil war, these two transitional areas are in the north, but have strong support for the south's ruling SPLM. Ongoing "popular consultations" set up as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) are intended to allow the people to shape their future. However, unlike the south and Abyei, they do not have a referendum that could allow them to join an independent south. Many of those there who fought with the south during the civil war could be bitterly disappointed if they feel abandoned in the north.