Celebrations are taking place today as South Sudan marks it’s emergence as an independent nation after decades of civil war. Conflict between Arab Muslim factions in the north and black Sudanese people in the south killed millions; a 2005 peace treaty was enacted to end the fighting and a January election finally brought the split of Africa’s largest nation.

South Sudan’s first president is Salva Kiir Mayardit, a former leader of rebel factions; he vowed that his people will never again be oppressed. “As we celebrate our freedom and independence today, I want to assure the people of Darfur, Abyei and South Kordofan, we have not forgotten you,” he said, acknowledging the need for solidarity among the conflict-ridden African nations. “When you cry, we cry. When you bleed, we also bleed.’

Present at today’s ceremonies was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who stood at odds with the South Sudanese people during the years long conflict. He reinforced his continued belief that a unified Sudan would be ideal, but still congratulated the crowd on their independence.

Sudan broke free from British colonialism in 1956. The largely Christian southern region entered full-scale rebellion against northern Arabic factions in the 1960s and then again in the 1980s. The government responded by bombing villages, enslaving children and murdering civilians. The NY Times reports that the same genocide tactics being employed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur had been employed in Southern Sudan long ago. Bashir has been indicted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court for his actions in Darfur.

The split is largely in name only, as physical boundaries, oil possession and issues of citizenship have yet to be resolved. CNN reports that South Sudan, which is the size of Texas , has few paved roads and that most villages are without electricity and running water. Maternal mortality and female illiteracy rates, both which are used to measure the development of nations, are both among the world’s highest. The economic growth of the north has evaded South Sudan. Concerns over continued peace remain, as there have been recent clashes in border regions of the now divided nation.

The United Nations will meet Wednesday to discuss membership for South Sudan and has voted to send 7,000 peacekeepers and 900 uniformed police to the new nation.

Despite the challenges ahead, many of the people of South Sudan remain optimistic. Abuk Makuac, who fled Sudan in 1984 and returned to celebrated the new independence told CNN “We have waited so long to get here … I will worry about that later. This weekend, we celebrate.”

PS: Why did CNN use ”Birth Of A Nation” to title their coverage of South Sudan? Le sigh.

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