Khartoum–Sudan's former north-south foes began much-delayed talks this week on how to divide wealth and power, with time running out five months before a referendum on independence for the south.
The two sides need to resolve sensitive issues including demarcating the border, defining citizenship and sharing oil and Nile waters in the case of either result in the 9 January 2011 referendum — secession or unity. The plebiscite culminates a 2005 peace deal which ended Africa's longest civil war.
"For a referendum to decide whether to keep a country united or to develop a new state, post-referendum issues are very crucial," said Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior official in the north's ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
"Keeping (these issues) on the table after the referendum means that people are looking for trouble," he said.
Four committees began late on Monday to discuss technical issues like which international treaties an independent south Sudan will join and what currency to use.
The committees are not expected to resolve major issues such as oil and Nile water sharing and the border, which are likely to be political decisions traded off at a higher level.
"Action at the political level to resolve these outstanding questions without further delay…is clearly now of the utmost importance," said Derek Plumbly, head of the international commission tasked with monitoring the deal's implementation.
All agree time is running short especially on defining the border, a problem similar to the one which sparked conflict between neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia when they separated.
"It will not be possible to execute the referendum without demarcating the border," said Ghandour.
There is a six-month transition after the referendum to allow the result of the vote — which most analysts believe will result in secession — to be implemented.
Most of Sudan's oil wealth is believed to lie along the disputed north-south border, and defining the frontier has remained in deadlock for years.
A committee discussing the border has sent the issue to be resolved by the presidency, which includes President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of the NCP and Salva Kiir, leader of the south's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), who is both president of the south and first vice president of the country.
Implementing the 2005 accord has been a halting and tortured process with the two sides bickering at almost every stage, sowing the seeds of mistrust which will probably make these end-game negotiations a protracted process.
The north-south civil war claimed 2 million lives, mostly through hunger and disease, and destabilized much of east Africa.