Six years after Sudan's peace accord was signed, demarcation of its 2,000-kilometre-long north-south border area is finally about to begin.
A complex issue, the borderline directly affects 10 border states and some 13 million people -- nearly one fourth of the country's total population -- and is intertwined with questions of security and resource sharing.
According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the border must be demarcated as it stood on the day Sudan gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule on 1 January, 1956, or along the so-called 1/1/56 line.
Border delimitation, or marking the border on paper, was completed in late 2009 by the CPA-established Technical Border Committee, with the exception of five areas or some 500 kilometres.
However, experts claim that demarcation is not merely about physically marking the borderline.
"The issue is not whether (border demarcation) physically happens but whether it will be sustainable," said socio-cultural anthropologist and private consultant Abdalbasat Saeed from his Khartoum office.
According to Mr. Saeed, author of the 2011 paper Challenges facing Sudan after the referendum, border demarcation has been stalled due to its complexities and the lack of political will, as the borderline belt is a highly valued area prone to conflict over resources.
"The BLB (borderline belt) is a disputed, conflict-ridden zone, subject to special provisions of the CPA," the study states. "It includes Blue Nile State and South Kordofan State in North Sudan, which are governed by the CPA Two Areas Protocol; the disputed Abyei area (...) and five states in South Sudan that are subject to the other major CPA protocols governing power sharing, resource sharing, and security."
In some areas, especially in Southern Kordofan, "Oil-related and pasture-related disputes are entangled with unresolved border delineation disputes that the TBC has been trying to address for six years," the paper adds.
To resolve some of these problems, a new phase of peace and capacity building is needed, said Mr. Saeed, adding that the border areas lacked essential services while resources were fully utilized, as much of the country's oil, mineral wealth and sugar were produced here.
Recognizing the sensitivity of the border issue, the African Union High-level Implementation Panel (assisting with post-referendum negotiations between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement) called for a "soft border" last November to allow communities to continue economic and social activities as before.
While stiff borders might mean a dead-end as pastoralists, for instance, would fail to comprehend a closing off of their seasonal movement, soft ones would acknowledge interdependencies of communities, consultant Mr. Saeed said.
If a soft border were established for an extended transitional period, pastoralists "would feel as if there was no border drawn", Mr. Saeed said. A merchant coming either from north or south, "would feel that things are normal as ... you used to know them before the setting of the two states".
From a technical point of view, however, soft borders would mean "ice cream borders", TBC Chairman Abdallah Al-Sadiq said, and the demarcation committee's mandate required the actual placing of pillars on the ground.
In undisputed areas, the TBC was aiming to start technical border demarcation by 27 March, the Chairman said. Once demarcated, 1.8 metre high pillars placed every five kilometres in vast rural areas, and every kilometrein "high value" areas, including Abyei and Higlig towns, would indicate the border between Sudan and its would-be neighbour of South Sudan.
To maintain border safety and the continuation of border communities' rights, including grazing, trading and citizenship, "will require goodwill, attention to the historical context, and an emphasis on the mutual benefits of cooperation", Mr. Saeed notes in his study.
At a three-day workshop held in Ed-Damazin last October discussing post-referendum border issues, representatives from Southern Kordofan, Upper Nile, White Nile and Blue Nile states called for the creation of a joint police force and joint native administration courts, regular meetings of state-level joint border commissions and uniform taxation and tariffs along the border.