Most people close to the situation believe that the upcoming January 9, 2011 referendum could lead to war between the Sudan national government (by the Islamic National Congress Party, the NCP) and the Government of South Sudan (GOSS, semi-autonomous southern government led by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement). The aid agencies have started stockpiling food and medical supplies. The UN's World Food Program (WFP) has moved several truck convoys of food into South Sudan. The WFP is trying to get donors to provide at least three months worth of food, in case war breaks out between Sudan and South Sudan. Everyone believes that South Sudan will vote for independence (which the northerners call secession). Even if all-out war does not occur, the staffs of the various aid groups think there is a good chance that trouble will occur in hotspots like Abyei (border area that also produces oil).
December 24, 2010: The NCP has asked that all of Sudan's neighboring countries agree to help the national government and the GOSS resolve disagreements over the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) before the January 9, 2011 referendum. The NCP appeal is interesting because the GOSS has made similar requests. A new north-south war would not be quite like the former civil war. This time South Sudan has more heavy weapons. Though it would not officially become a separate country until July 2011, since the 2005 CPA the GOSS has been increasingly functioning like a separate nation state. It has conducted its own regional foreign relations (with Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia) and has been acquiring weapons and ammunition (much of which arrives via Kenya). The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA, the SPLM's military) has guerrilla fighters but also several units that rate as conventional forces. A new war could be much bigger than the last one, and neighboring nations would be affected. Some may be directly involved. Kenya and Uganda would provide supply lines for South Sudan. Kenya and Uganda both have significant Muslim communities, but they are predominantly Christian, black African nations. The NCP has been trying to get help from Egypt and Libya, which are predominantly Arab and Muslim nations. South Sudan is predominantly Christian and animist.
December 20, 2010: Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He also recently declared that if South Sudan secedes (secedes is his word) then the north will adopt strict Sharia (Islamic) law. He will also make Arabic the official language. While the north is predominantly Muslim, it has Christian communities. Bashir's threat sets the stage for either expulsions based on religion or ethnic cleansing or both. The 2005 CPA promised that the government would respect basic human rights. However, Bashir launched the war in Darfur which the US called a genocide.
December 19, 2010: A new round of fighting between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese Army have occurred, with some 12,000 civilians fleeing the violence. One of the battles took place near the town of Khor Abeche. The Sudanese Army fought with the Sudan Liberation Movement Minni Minnawi faction (SLM/Minnawi). There were two other clashes in early December at Khor Abeche. The national government had threatened to attack the SLM/Minnawi after the group withdrew from the 2006 peace agreement.
December 18, 2010: The ICC has found evidence that President Bashir has stolen several billion dollars while in office. The allegation is no surprise. Sub-Saharan African governments are notoriously corrupt. Bashir is also under indictment by the ICC for war crimes and filching a few billions provides him enough money to buy protection should he ever have to flee Sudan and go into exile. Corruption allegations have dogged Bashir for years. A Wikileaks diplomatic cable mentioned the allegations.
December 16, 2010: An armed group of Misseriya tribesmen ambushed a convoy and took around 1000 people hostage. The Misseriya are demanding that the GOSS or some other government pay them for the deaths of three Misseriya tribesmen who have been killed this year. This is considered a tribal feud. The Misseriya want blood money (monetary payment for the deaths). A deal was reached between the tribesmen and the Unity state government, but the deal fell through. This is a touchy situation made worse because of the looming independence referendum. Misseriya are an Arabized tribe and are regarded as allies of the national government.
December 11, 2010: The SPLM announced to no one's surprise-- that it supports southern independence. An SPLM spokesman said that the NCP (ruling northern party) had not lived up to the commitments it made when it signed the 2005 CPA. This is a bit of political theater because the SPLM has always been suspicious of the north's intentions. It's likely that a majority of SPLM leaders have always favored independence. That said, the SPLM is now actively and openly campaigning for independence, even as it nominally remains part of the national governing coalition.
December 7, 2010: The U.S. believes that the separate self-determination referendum scheduled to be held in the Abyei region will not take place on January 9, 2011, as scheduled. Up until this point Abyei's special referendum was expected to occur, even though the north and south still had not settled several basic issues, such as voter eligibility. If the Abyei referendum is delayed, this means the north and south will have to agree to hold the Abyei referendum after the southern independence referendum. How likely is that? The northern government is going to be angry. Moreover, it will not want to risk the loss of Abyei's oil fields. This is why Abyei is a hotspot, and potentially the spark that ignites another war.