JUBA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of South Sudanese danced and cheered as their new nation declared independence yesterday, a hard-won separation from the north that still leaves simmering issues of disputed borders and oil payments unresolved.
The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, stood next to his old civil war foe the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who now leads just the north, at a ceremony to mark the birth of the new nation. Under-developed, oil-producing South Sudan won its independence in a January referendum — the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of fighting with the north.
Security forces at first tried to control the streets in the south’s dusty capital Juba, but retreated as jubilant crowds moved in overnight and through the day, waving flags, dancing and chanting “South Sudan o-yei, freedom o-yei”.
Some revellers fainted in the blistering heat as South Sudan’s parliamentary speaker, James Wani Igga, read out the formal declaration of independence.
“We, the democratically elected representatives of the people … hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state,” said Igga before Sudan’s flag was lowered, the South Sudan flag was raised and the new anthem sung. Kiir took the oath of office.
People threw their hands in the air, embraced and wept. “We got it. We got it,” one man said as he hugged a woman.
The presence of Bashir, who campaigned to keep Africa’s largest state united, was a key gesture of goodwill.
It will also be an embarrassment to some Western diplomats at the event. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
Bashir gave a speech congratulating the new country. “The will of the people of the south has to be respected,” he said, adding that both states had to maintain peace.
North Sudan’s government was the first to recognise South Sudan on Friday, hours before the split took place, a move that smoothed the way to the division.
The United States, China and Britain signalled their recognition of the state yesterday, according to official statements and government media reports. “After so much struggle by the people of South Sudan, the United States of America welcomes the birth of a new nation,” said US President Barack Obama, stopping short of announcing any immediate changes in longstanding US sanctions on Sudan that Khartoum has been hoping will be lifted.
Dignitaries including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of about 30 African nations attended.
In a possible sign of the South’s new allegiances, the crowd included about 200 supporters of Darfur rebel leader Abdel Wahed al-Nur, fighting Khartoum in an eight-year insurgency just over South Sudan’s border in the north.