Tuesday 24 October 2017

Birth of a nation as South Sudan arises

Alexander Dziadosz and Jeremy Clarke

TENS of thousands of South Sudanese danced and cheered as their new country formally declared its independence yesterday, a hard-won separation from the north that also plunged the fractured region into uncertainty.

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, stood next to his old civil war foe, the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who now leads just the north, at a ceremony to mark the birth of the new nation. Under-developed oil-producing South Sudan won its independence in a January referendum -- the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of fighting.

Security forces at first tried to control the streets in the south's dusty capital Juba, but retreated as jubilant crowds moved in overnight and through the day, waving flags, dancing and chanting.

Some revellers fainted in the blistering heat as South Sudan's parliamentary speaker, James Wani Igga, read out the formal declaration of independence.

"We, the democratically elected representatives of the people. . . hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state," said Igga before Sudan's flag was lowered, the South Sudan flag was raised and the new anthem sung. Mr Kiir took the oath of office.

The presence of Mr Bashir, who campaigned to keep Africa's largest state united, was a key gesture of goodwill.

It will also be an embarrassment to some Western diplomats at the event. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

North Sudan's government was the first to recognise South Sudan on Friday, hours before the split took place, a move that smoothed the way to the division.

The US, China and Britain signalled their recognition of the state on Saturday, according to official statements and government media reports.

Dignitaries present included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while the leaders of about 30 African nations also attended.

In a possible sign of the South's new allegiances, the crowd included about 200 supporters of Darfur rebel leader Abdel Wahed al-Nur, who is fighting Khartoum in an eight-year insurgency just over South Sudan's border in the north.

The crowd cheered as Mr Kiir unveiled a giant statue of civil war hero John Garang, who signed the peace deal with the north.

Mr Kiir offered an amnesty to armed groups fighting his government, and also promised to bring peace to troubled border areas.

Northern and southern leaders have still not agreed on a list of issues, most importantly the line of the border, the ownership of the disputed Abyei region and how they will handle oil revenues, the lifeblood of both economies.

At the stroke of midnight the Republic of Sudan lost almost a third of its territory and about three-quarters of its oil reserves, which are sited in the south.

The UN Security Council voted on Friday to establish a force of up to 7,000 peacekeepers for South Sudan.

Sunday Independent

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