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Any good news today from South Sudan?

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Pete Muller/AP

(Read caption) A southern Sudanese man dons traditional tribal accessories during a pro-independence march in the southern capital of Juba on Sept. 9. The event, which drew hundreds of supporters, aimed to bolster pro-independence sentiment ahead of an independence referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011. The referendum will determine whether south Sudan formally secedes.

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The sun was setting at the standard equatorial time of just after 7 pm, and I was bumping along a potholed road with my trusted motorcycle taxi driver. Another day in Juba was beginning to draw to a close. “Do you have any good news from today?” my driver Issa said to me.

This is not the first time in the 11 months that I have known Issa that he has said something to me that has struck me as powerful, insightful, or simply startling in its honesty. He's curious about the status of the high-level political negotiations that will partly dictate the future of Sudan as the south prepares for a referendum on whether it will become an independent nation. He’s worried about insecurity along the north-south border because he heard things were getting tense in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region. He wonders why the Army has deployed more security resources a bridge over the Nile River in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. When he hears something on BBC or from his fellow boda driver friends, he often asks me if I’ve heard the same things.

So it wasn’t unusual for Issa to ask me about the news on that recent evening. Yet something about the way he said it made me realize that I had very little good news to report to him.

Negotiations between the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba are moving forward quietly on some fronts. But the most contentious aspects of these discussions – related to post-referendum wealth-sharing and citizenship rights – aren’t likely to see progress any time soon. Meanwhile, voter registration for the January referendum has yet to begin after delays in appointing a secretary-general for the southern referendum commission. Another commission for a separate Abyei vote – to determine if the region wants to join the south in case it secedes – has not yet been formed due to political deadlock.

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