On Sunday, the southern Sudanese began voting on a referendum to secede from the Republic of Sudan and establish their own sovereign nation. By all accounts, they will soon secede from the Arab, Islamic country and form an independent African, Christian and animist state.
The consequences of their actions will reverberate around the world.
This week's referendum takes place in accordance with the US-brokered Comprehensive Peace Treaty between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed on January 9, 2005.
The CPT officially ended the second Sudanese Civil War that began in 1983.
The South Sudanese referendum will not settle the issue of control over all of southern Sudan. Numerous flashpoints remain. Most importantly, the disposition of the town of Abyei remains undetermined. Abyei is where most of Sudan's oil deposits are located.
Unlike the rest of the south, its population is a mix of Arabs and Africans and its residents are split over the issue of separation from Khartoum. If there is war after independence, Abyei will likely be its cause.
Abyei's residents were supposed to vote on a referendum to determine the disposition of their town at the same time as the rest of the south. But fuelled by their conflicting interests, they could not agree on how to run the poll, and so it did not take place.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is playing a contradictory role in the South Sudanese referendum. Al-Bashir has been indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
Last week he visited South Sudan's capital city Juba and pledged to support the referendum's results. As he put it, "I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession. Even after the southern state is born, we are ready in the Khartoum government to offer any technical or logistical support and training or advice - we are ready to help."
But then, last Friday, pro-Khartoum militias attacked anti-Khartoum targets in Abyei. By Monday, 23 people had been killed. According to South Sudanese military spokesmen, militiamen captured in Abyei said they were ordered to attack by Khartoum.
Much of the international discourse on southern Sudan has centered on what South Sudan's independence means for its citizens and for Africa as a whole. And this is reasonable.
In its 54-year history, Sudan has suffered from civil war between the north and south for 39 years. Some 200,000 south Sudanese were kidnapped into slavery. Two million Sudanese have died in the wars. Four million have become refugees.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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