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'A dream come true' as South Sudan launches new nation

Joy and reverence rippled through the crowds during South Sudan's independence ceremony on Saturday.

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A host of African heads of state also attended, including South Sudan's historic enemy, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

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Mr. Bashir, who is wanted at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, struck an unusually conciliatory tone at the ceremony, urging the two Sudanese states to "overcome the bitterness of the past."

Immediate challenges loom

As South Sudan's capital, Juba, was rocked by celebrations, international and local concerns over the insecurity along the North-South border and all-out hostilities between northern troops and southern-allied forces in the northern state of Southern Kordofan were pushed aside for the day. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stressed in his remarks that the northern and southern governments still had many issues to resolve about the future of their relationship.

The southern president acknowledged the challenges ahead for the new country, telling his citizens to remember that they are "southerners first" as they work together to build a nation from the south's diverse ethnic groups. He asked for the southern militias currently challenging the army in the south's oil-producing region to lay down their arms and "join us in this young nation."

Kiir also pledged that his government would rise to the challenges that come along with statehood.

“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."

Optimism, despite the obstacles

"There's still room for optimism for South Sudan," Eddie Thomas of the Rift Valley Institute told the Monitor. "It's more peaceful today than it has been for most of its post-colonial history - and for that matter, most of its colonial history."

On one of the new billboards towering over one of Juba's main streets, the message reflected the solidarity among southerners that has been a theme of the independence celebrations: "We have suffered together, we are now free together."

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