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Even before the January independence vote, Sudan divides between North and South.
The civil wars that have raged through the Sudan’s post-independence history have been fought over religion, ethnicity and resources. A 2005 peace deal stopped the last 22-year long round of North-South fighting in which 2 million people died, mostly from starvation and illness, and 4 million more were forced from their homes.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement guaranteed the mostly black Christian southerners a vote on whether to secede from the predominately Arab-Muslim North. The desire for separation feels unanimous in the oil-rich South where many feel distrust and bitterness towards the North.
“There are signs of coming insecurity,” warned Imam Ogony, a southern Muslim who leads prayers at the stone mosque that dominates Malakal. “Northerners and southerners do not trust each other, they see each other as enemies not as brothers.”
“My worry is for those southerners who are in the North,” said Simon Kun Puoch, governor of Upper Nile State who fears the tinderbox that Malakal might become after the referendum vote. “If anything happened in the North the same would happen in the South, this is our fear.”
Malakal is a trading center and a crossroads between North and South just 25 miles from the unmarked and disputed border. It is not a melting pot because there is little mixing of the people; it is a divided town.
The northern Sudan Armed Forces have barracks at one end of town, the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army at the other. In 2006 and 2009 the two armies fought each other with rifles, mortars and tanks killing hundreds. An uneasy peace has held since but with the referendum approaching there is a growing wariness.
“There is a problem lying ahead, a big problem between North and South,” said another of the town’s religious men, John Jock Riay of the Lutheran Church. “War is inevitable, nothing can stop it.”