The Republic of South Sudan was declared an independent nation today in the capital, Juba, as tens of thousands of people celebrated their freedom after almost 50 years of rebellion against the Muslim north.
The national flag was raised for the first time after the declaration of independence was read by the speaker of the South Sudanese parliament, James Wani Igga. Celebrations started at midnight when church bells rang as a countdown clock flashed “free at last.”
“We were bombed, maimed, enslaved, treated worse than a refugee in our own country, but we have to forgive, although we will not forget,” President Salva Kiir said in a speech after he was sworn in for a four-year term. “Some of our suffering has been self-inflicted. We have squabbled over issues that could be solved peacefully.”
The festivities took place amid violence along South Sudan’s border with the north, internal rebellion and the worst poverty rate in Africa. Almost the size of the state of Texas with only 100 miles of paved roads, oil-rich South Sudan has an adult illiteracy rate of 85 percent, and about half of its 8 million people live on less than $1 a day, according to the United Nations.
“All the indices of human welfare put us at the bottom of humanity,” Kiir said in front of an audience that included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as many as 30 African heads of state and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir called on the two nations to “overcome the bitterness of the past” and build “positive and special neighborly relations.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was “proud” to recognize South Sudan.
“Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible,” he said in a statement on the White House website.
The newly independent state will assume control of about 75 percent of Sudan’s daily production of 490,000 barrels of oil, pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp.
China announced today that it recognized South Sudan, Xinhua news agency reported.
Overshadowing the celebrations are increasing raids by anti-government militias within South Sudan’s borders and tension along its frontier with al-Bashir’s country, which southern officials accuse of backing the rebels.
Kiir today offered an amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms.
“They claim that our concept of freedom and democracy is faulty,” he said. “It is up to us to prove them wrong.”
The UN Security Council voted 15-0 yesterday to send 7,000 soldiers and 900 police to South Sudan to provide security for the new nation.
This year has been the most violent in South Sudan since the end of the civil war in 2005, with 2,368 civilians dying in rebel attacks and ethnic violence, including cattle raids, compared with 940 last year, according to the UN. As many as nine militia groups operate mainly along the border with the north close to oil fields.
“They aim to show the world that the government of southern Sudan is not in charge of security in the country, to create the impression that southern Sudan is a failed state before it is born,” Gier Chuang, the minister of internal affairs, told reporters on July 6.
Sharing Oil Revenue
After months of negotiations, a final north-south deal on how to share oil revenue has yet to be worked out. The two sides agreed in principle that the south will pay the north for the use of pipelines and facilities at Port Sudan on the Red Sea to export its crude. Since the end of the civil war, the north and south have split earnings from production in southern oilfields.
Military tensions with the north have heightened in recent weeks with clashes in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan between Sudan’s army and troops loyal to South Sudan’s army forcing more than 73,000 people to flee their homes since June 5, according to the United Nations.
“Violence and intimidation in Southern Kordofan, especially by the Government of Sudan, must end,” Obama said in the statement.
Sudan’s army seized the main town in the disputed border area of Abyei on May 21, driving more than 100,000 members of the Ngok Dinka ethnic group, who consider themselves southerners, from their homes. While negotiators from the north and the south agreed last month to withdraw their forces and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers to deploy in the area, the pullout hasn’t happened.
The Security Council voted on June 27 to deploy 4,200 Ethiopian soldiers in Abyei.
Kiir said South Sudan would work to help bring peace to the border areas.
“When you cry, we cry, when you bleed, we also bleed,” he said. “I pledge to you today, that we will find a just peace for all.”
Oil revenue, which provides 98 percent of its $2 billion budget, give South Sudan a potential advantage over other post- conflict states, according to Bill Hammink, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development for Sudan.
“Starting from today, we’ll have no excuse or a scapegoat to blame,” Kiir said. “As an independent country, we must focus on the process of service delivery and development.”