Facts and figures about Sudan as a weeklong independence referendum, begins in the south.
The vote: Southern Sudan is voting whether to become independent from the north as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a war stretching more than two decades. The south is widely expected to vote for secession.
The land: Sudan is Africa`s largest country geographically, about one-quarter the size of the United States. Southern Sudan alone is roughly the size of Texas. Many of Sudan`s neighbors are volatile countries: Libya, Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Sudan`s long, porous borders are easily crossed by rebel groups.
The people: Sudan has a population of about 44 million. The north is mostly Muslim, while the south is populated by black Africans who are mostly Christian and animist. Dozens of languages and dialects are spoken, but northerners mostly speak Arabic while the southerners tend to speak English.
The economy: Sudan is one of Africa`s largest oil exporters and the sale of crude is its chief foreign exchange earner. The oil fields are located mostly in the south but the pipelines to take them to the Red Sea run through northern territory. Agriculture employs 80 percent of the work force; Sudan exports products like cotton, grains, livestock and fruit.
History: A rebellion first began in the south in 1955, the year before Sudan gained independence after joint British-Egyptian control. Fighting lasted until a 1972 peace agreement, which failed to resolve the fundamental issues.
Fighting resumed in the early 1980s and about 2 million people died over the next two decades. The 2005 peace agreement granted the south autonomy for six years, at the end of which a referendum on independence was to be held.
Rebels in the western region of Darfur and in the northeast also have rebelled against the Khartoum-based government, accusing it of concentrating wealth in the hands of a politically privileged Islamist elite and ignoring development in outlying regions. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003 and 2.7 million have been forced from their homes because of the conflict.