The Sudanese government has detained top politicians from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a group comprised of southern Sudanese ex-rebels who signed a 2005 peace accord with the central government. Why is this significant? Well, according to the agreement Sudan is meant to have its first parliamentary and presidential elections in April. In turn, these elections are a precursors to a 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence. If the Sudanese government effectively blocks the national elections, chances are that it will also block the 2011 referendum, precipitating a resumption of a decades-long civil war.
Of course, activists have been warning for years that these elections were doomed. E.g. John Prendergast:
It was fanciful of the United States and other donor nations to think that the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, which has ruled Sudan with an iron fist and tolerated no peaceful dissent, would suddenly loosen its grip and allow peaceful elections and their necessary precursor: peaceful freedom of assembly.
We can expect to see more and more incidents like this in the coming weeks. In my view, the only real question is when (not if) the tipping point will occur and discrete incidents will overflow into sustained conflict.
Should (when) that point come, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will look more like a brief pause in a 20 year civil than anything resembling a peace accord. I just wonder (and worry) about how the 10,000 or so peacekeepers in Southern Sudan will respond?
UPDATE: Sean Brooks offers a run-down of disturbing recent developments in Sudan.