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Sudan referendum will pose unique challenge in towns near future border

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Pete Muller/AP

(Read caption) In this Wednesday Sept. 15, 2010 photo, UN military observers greet the Director of Police, Brig. Gen. William Chulo, in the town of Renk, southern Sudan. UN military observers conduct long range patrols throughout southern Sudan in order to acquire information on military maneuvers, weapons buildups and other developments that might signal a return to conflict.

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In the northernmost point of Southern Sudan, the challenges facing the south as it looks toward independence are starkly evident, but not in the way I imagined before arriving in this surprisingly developed and bustling town roughly 30 miles from Sudan’s north-south border.

Renk feels unlike much of the rest of Southern Sudan thanks to reliable, 24-hour electricity, streetlights lining paved roads in the town center, and a lively evening market populated by northerners, southerners, and immigrants from Ethiopia, which borders Upper Nile state.

Sudan’s “center-periphery” dynamic has driven conflict in the country since independence. Khartoum has generally been the site where Sudan’s wealthy and powerful elite have directed their campaigns of marginalization and violence against the country’s peripheral populations (like those in Darfur and in the south). If follows that development and prosperity in Sudan emanate from the capital Khartoum, but over the years, the ruling National Congress Party regime has extended its riches to other select areas, mostly in the Nile river areas south near the capital.

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