Squabbles between parties to Sudan's North-South peace agreement, rival community interests and the slow pace of development could destabilise Southern Kordofan State, analysts warned.
"Southern Kordofan is in a state of political turmoil," Sara Pantuliano, research fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group, said.
"Signs of insecurity are widespread in the western area where grievances about lack of access to services and employment and the blockage of pastoralist movement towards the South have led a number of Misseriya youth to resort to armed violence."
The state lies between North and South Sudan and is mainly occupied by the Nuba, various central highland communities and pastoralist Baggara Arabs comprising the Misseriya and Hawazma.
"I don't think all is well but the tensions and flares of violence will not necessarily lead to a return to war," said Nanne op 't Ende, author of www.nubamountains.com and Proud to be Nuba (2008).
"Dozens, hundreds may still get killed - that will probably continue to be acceptable, as it has been for the past three years," he told IRIN. "Neither the Nuba nor Arab populations are united.
"You cannot understand Southern Kordofan when you equate NCP [the ruling National Congress Party] with Baggara Arabs and SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] with Nuba Africans. The NCP and the SPLM may be rivals [but] they both have vested interests in the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]."
Signed in 2005 in Nairobi, the agreement ended years of war between the NCP government and the SPLM. It provides for elections in July 2009 and a referendum on the status of the South in 2011.
"NCP and SPLM politicians [in Southern Kordofan] have for the last three years had the chance to act as representatives without being elected and thus have a lot of personal interests in remaining in power," op 't Ende said.
"Following the CPA towards the elections demands a certain level of cooperation between NCP and SPLM and it seems the parties continue to make some progress - enough to keep the CPA from derailing, too little to be really convincing as a genuine effort to get the state back on track," he added.
State Secretary-General Abdalla Eltom Elimam said development plans existed. "It is a difficult state with poor roads, a hilly terrain, seasonal rivers and rains making most of parts inaccessible," he said. "Dengue, haemorrhagic and yellow fevers are endemic."
The five-year strategic development plan emphasises peace, security, rehabilitation and reconstruction of basic sectors. "If we manage to construct the main roads and provide water and healthcare, we will help stabilise peace," he added.
Local residents expressed mixed feelings. "During the war many people were killed. Now we are moving freely but are not experiencing the kind of peace and development that we were expecting," Ayoub Osman, a teacher in Kadugli told IRIN. "The CPA means an end to war, changes in the status of living and reconciliation with former enemies, but some people want the war to continue."
Halima Kuku Adam, a tea-seller in Kolba area, said: "We need education, healthcare and support in agriculture. Roads are still lacking in the rural areas and water is a big cause of conflict. I do not know what the CPA is about … but I feel there is no need to celebrate."
Conflict between farmers and nomads over pasture was another issue. "The nomads bring their livestock to the farming areas for pasture and water and this creates problems," Osman said.
There were also too many firearms in circulation. "I feel insecure when I see many people moving around with guns - this is definitely not a sign of peace," said Amanie Kunda, a resident.
Off-duty soldiers carried weapons even in crowded markets and there were many frustrated, jobless ex-SPLM fighters.
"The young men are not eager to work the fields and are either hanging around on a soldier's fee, studying or looking for a job in Khartoum," said op 't Ende. "What does Southern Kordofan have to offer young people?"
About 289,000 people have returned to Southern Kordofan since 2005; the return of SPLA ex-combatants to the Nuba region from the Lake al-Abyaed area will exacerbate the pressure on resources.
"Events in Southern Kordofan are likely to have a domino effect," said a humanitarian worker in the region. "People will look at events there and the government's handling of this will influence them."
Discontent, analysts say, has grown. "Southern secession would leave the Nuba within a Northern Sudan possibly dominated by the NCP, and some former SPLA soldiers have reportedly set up armed groups protesting the remarginalisation of the Nuba in the CPA," the think-tank Chatham House said in a 9 January report, Against the Gathering Storm: Securing Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Pantuliano said differences over power-sharing between the NCP and SPLM were aggravated in 2008 when an NCP governor dismissed finance minister Ahmed Saeed, who was from the SPLM.
"In the central and eastern part, the rift between the SPLM and the NCP [threatens] the delicate power-sharing arrangement between the two parties," she said. "If the SPLM demands to reinstate its finance minister are not met, it is likely that it will withdraw from the joint government, leading to further political instability and a possible return to violence over the coming months."
One observer said war was unlikely, however. "It is unlikely that the state will return to war at least during the interim period," Abdalbasit Saeed noted in a blog article: Kordofan, Making Sense of Darfur.
"The SPLA/Nuba earned the CPA protocol which ascertains an autonomous identity for Southern Kordofan vis-à-vis Northern Kordofan," Saeed said. "Southern Kordofan won minimum gains that would make futile any attempts of return to armed violence during the six-year interim period."
The protocol provides for public consultations on the CPA, but there is still no commission to implement it. According to the International Crisis Group, delays in setting up the commission have fed into Nuba frustrations and reinforced perceptions that the protocol is unlikely to produce positive outcomes.
A state land commission has also not been formed. "Land was a major factor for people going to war, when it was taken from them and given to big farms," said a local leader. "The CPA did not clearly state that land in the state is communally owned yet this is the feeling among the people. If the land is taken away by force then there will be problems."