World's newest country: Can South Sudan limit internal strife?
As the Republic of South Sudan prepares to declare independence Saturday, internal ethnic and political divisions threaten the nation's long-term viability.
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Anti-government militia activity, severe army responses to the militias, and armed cattle raids that often spiral into local but deadly ethnic conflicts are the main causes of these deaths. The UN's latest statistics indicate that there are more than 260,000 people displaced in the South this year, which includes an estimated 100,000 who ran for their lives after the northern Sudanese army seized the disputed town of Abyei in mid-May.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures South Sudan: World's newest country
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The recent violence also illustrates that the grievances that southern tribes and armed groups have with each other – and with the southern government – are real and will not be resolved overnight.
Old wounds reopened
Conflicting priorities may well plague South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, who has been praised for bringing friends and foes alike into his government in the past five years. Mr. Kiir's strategy enabled the government to preserve the fragile southern peace that was ushered in when the north-south war ended in 2005.
When the war ended, healing the wounds between southern ethnic groups through political and military reconciliation was an essential task for the already bloated and at times dangerously dysfunctional army. But these wounds were reopened after Sudan's April 2010 elections, when the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the south's ruling party, used questionable tactics to secure its victory in some remote areas where opposition to its rule was strong.
Since the elections more than a year ago, these discontented groups have launched a flurry of rebel groups in the south's strategic oil-producing zones and clearly showing that the southern army is not fully equipped or capable of defeating these movements.
The southern army's attempts to defeat rebel militia groups have drawn criticism from not only from international rights groups, but also from southerners themselves, who say their grievances with the government should not make them enemies of their new state.
At a press conference on Wednesday in the southern capital of Juba, Minister of Internal Affairs Gier Chuang fielded questions from local journalists expressing concerns about the freedom of expression of journalists and of local officials who have recently criticized the government for failing to address rampant insecurity in remote areas of the south. Others complained of arbitrary treatment by security forces who are stepping up security measures in Juba ahead of Saturday's celebrations. Many Juba residents have been displaced from their homes and shops near the site of the ceremony.
'Kicks of a dying horse?'
But the southern government seems reluctant to acknowledge the security threats that plague its territory from within.
The minister of roads and transport told journalists in Juba on Wednesday that the rebellions causing insecurity and violence in four of the south's ten states are "just the kicks of a dying horse," and that they would not impact the ability of the government to implement the wide-ranging plans he described to build pipelines, railways, and ten international airports, among other huge infrastructure projects.