Thousands are celebrating in the capital city of Juba and elsewhere in South Sudan, after an official split from the North commenced in the creation of the Republic of South Sudan on Saturday, reports The New York Times.
Created in a particulary war-ravaged region of Africa, the continent’s 54th state declared its newfound independence in front of a broad delegation of dignitaries, including Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe — both accused war criminals.
“My whole body feels happy,” English teacher Goerge Garang told the Times.
The country has suffered decades of violence between Christians in the south and Arabs in the north. Christian groups outside the country — and notably George W. Bush, who made supporting a split a top foreign policy priority — have long pushed for allowing a vote for the south to secede.
According to the BBC, President Salva Kiir Mayardit told a giant crowd in the sweltering heat that former fighters against the South Sudan government would be offered amnesty, and acknowledged huge number of deaths in the long conflict, estimated near 1.5 million.
“Our martyrs did not die in vain…We have waited for more than 56 years for this day,” he said.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a guerrilla force, represents the new country’s political and military power. Recent skirmishes in the Nuba Mountains along the long fault line between north and south, which represents not only religious but ethnic differences, have created widespread unease.
Add that to a still-unresolved negotiation on splitting revenues from oil-rich wells in the south, and some worry that there is a still-potent recipe for full-on war. At least in word, however, leaders promised peace.
“This moment came through peace,” President Bashir said during the ceremony, according to the Times. “We must respect it.”