South Sudan celebrates independence, swears in new president
Thousands of South Sudanese poured into the ceremonial arena when gates opened. Traditional dancers drummed in the streets as residents waved tiny flags. Activists from the western Sudan region of Darfur, which has suffered heavy violence the past decades, held up a sign that said "Bashir is wanted dead or alive." Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly noted in his speech that Sudan and South Sudan have not yet resolved all of their political issues. The status of the contentious border region of Abyei — where northern and southern troops are standing off — remains in flux. South Kordofan, which is a part of the north but which has many southern supporters, has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks.
"Let their differences be resolved around the negotiating table," Ban said.
South Sudan is expected to become the 193rd country recognized by the United Nations next week and the 54th U.N. member state in Africa.
Though Saturday is a day of celebration, residents of South Sudan must soon face many challenges. Their country is oil-rich but is one of the poorest and least-developed on Earth. Unresolved problems between the south and its former foe to the north could mean new conflict along the new international border, advocates and diplomats warn.
Violence has broken out in the contested border region of Abyei in recent weeks, and fighting is ongoing in Southern Kordofan, a state that lies in Sudan — not South Sudan — but which has many residents loyal to the south. The 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) north-south border is disputed in five areas, several of which are being illegally occupied by either northern or southern troops.
Obama said that South Sudan and Sudan must recognize that they will be more secure and prosperous if they move beyond past differences peacefully. He said the 2005 peace deal — the Comprehensive Peace Agreement — must be full implemented and the status of Abyei resolved.
The young government faces the huge challenge of reforming its bloated and often predatory army, diversifying its oil-based economy, and deciding how political power will be distributed among the dozens of ethnic and military factions. It must also begin delivering basic needs such as education, health services, water and electricity to its more than 8 million citizens.
While South Sudan is now expected to control of more than 75 percent of what was Sudan's daily oil production, it has no refineries and southern oil must flow through the north's pipelines to reach market.
But for Saturday, at least, those problems lay on the back burner. Smiles, singing and dancing instead took precedence.
Adut Monica Joseph waited for the ceremony with her sister and uncle as world leaders arrived. She said she looked forward to a day when women in South Sudan don't face the hardships they have in recent decades. The risk to the mother of death during child birth is extremely high in the poor and underdeveloped rural south.
"I'm very grateful to see many people from other countries," said the 22-year-old. "I'm appreciating that they have come to celebrate with us. I hope when we have independence we shall have freedom and education for women."
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