The Republic of Southern Sudan officially became the world’s newest nation on July 9. An overwhelming majority of voters supported independence from the North in a January referendum. The event was marked by huge celebrations across the new country. The New York Times reported that by dawn thousands had poured into the streets of the capital, Juba. Dignitaries from all over the world arrived there as well to partake in the festivities.
Officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China were among those who spoke at a ceremony hosted by the government of the new state. They offered encouragement and support, promising to open embassies in the capital as soon as possible.
After his swearing in, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir spoke to the thousands gathered. “We were bombed, maimed, enslaved, treated worse than a refugee in our own country,” he told the crowd, “but we have to forgive, although we will not forget.”
South Sudan’s independence comes after two decades of civil war and mass atrocities at the hands of the government led by President Omar al-Bashir. Military operations into areas considered friendly to southern rebels often resulted in the murder and arrest of civilians. Forced displacement was used to clear out huge tracts of land. For these actions and others, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in 2010 for genocide.
Bashir also delivered a speech at the independence day ceremony. But the world’s newest nation has little time to celebrate as it faces the resurgence of some very old problems.
A new frontline is beginning to appear on the North–South border, as unsettled territorial claims escalate into violent confrontation. The oil-rich regions of South Kordofan, specifically the town of Abyei, have been the epicenters of this resurgence of violence. Northern forces entered Abyei in May, amid government claims of attacks by southern militias. Fighting spread further into the Nuba mountains region, and there are now reports of ethnic cleansing against the people there. Deadly bombardments, house-to-house arrests, executions, and a blockade against humanitarian aid have left hundreds of Nuba dead and tens of thousands displaced. Many of the Nuba have fled their homes to the safety of caves to avoid the the deadly government offensive.
While Bashir claims the North is responding to rebel aggression, others believe he has more sinister intentions. According to columnist Eric Reeves, Khartoum plans to “seize Abyei as far south as possible, then negotiate final status of the region from a position of military strength.”
Many agree with this analysis based on one very important fact: The border regions are oil-rich, and North Sudan stands to lose billions of dollars of revenue now that the South has seceded. The already debt-laden government is trying to ensure that it has a heavy presence in an area that could be vital to the regime’s survival—and by all appearances, it is willing to restart war to do so.
Photo: David Azia/Associated Press