Southern Sudan Set To Become Newest Nation

On July 9, southern Sudan becomes the world's newest nation. It comes six years after a peace deal ended a two-decade civil war between Sudan's north and south.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As Americans celebrate our Independence Day, citizens of the world's newest nation are preparing for theirs. South Sudan becomes independent on Saturday. After a long civil war between the northern and southern parts of Sudan, the south voted for independence. It was hoped that the formal divorce would come peacefully, but there's been violence in the oil-rich border region. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from Juba, the dusty capital of South Sudan. Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings, greetings indeed from Juba, capital of South Sudan, which is very dusty because there's a lot of last-minute building work going on here.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit about that. What does it look like, this newest capital in the world?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, it used to be a one-horse town, I'm told, Juba. I'm a first-timer here, Steve. But you can see that this is a work in progress and a city in the making. There are now brick buildings as well as many pre-fabricated buildings still. There's tarmac on the roads, whereas it used to be, I'm told, red laterite earth roads running through this city. And there's lots and lots of painting being done on buildings. And the airport, which is a tiny little airport, something is being built very close to it, no doubt to welcome the VIPs.

INSKEEP: So what are South Sudanese telling you?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, they're really, really happy, but in kind of a toned-down way. I guess that comes after the referendum in January, when they voted 90-plus percent for independence from Sudan, united Sudan, the north, for their own nation. But most people, whether they're young, old, whether they were born here, whether they've lived in exile, lived as refugees, are saying now we have freedom. Now we will be first-class citizens in our own country. We have lived with oppression from the north for far too long. We are longing for the Saturday, ninth of July and the independence. We have fought for it, we've worked hard for it, we deserve it and we're going to make this a functioning and proper peaceful nation.

INSKEEP: Although this celebration must be mixed with a little bit of anxiety because people do not know if they're going to begin their new national life at war because of this fighting along the border between what will soon be two different countries.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, expectations are high. But the fact that there has been fighting in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region. And Southern Sudan is home to most of Sudan's oil, so it's the richest part of the country. But not only has there been fighting in Abyei, although the north, the government in Khartoum, has said that it will pull its troops out and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers in and Steve, apart from the problems in Abyei, the oil - in the oil-rich South, there's an area that lies on the border between north and south that is the last oil-producing area of the North. But it's also home to the Nubba people. And they, although they live in the North, fought for independence in the South. They feel not only are they being targeted, but you have human rights campaigners talking about ethnic conflict. They feel completely isolated and marginalized in this part of the north, although they feel, I suppose in spirit, as if they're southern Sudanese.

INSKEEP: So you have people who feel that they have been essentially trapped on the wrong side of the borderline inviting future conflict.

QUIST-ARCTON: Very much so, in an area where there has been fighting over the past month or so.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is on the line from Juba in soon-to-be-independent South Sudan. Ofeibea, always a pleasure to speak with you.

QUIST-ARCTON: And a pleasure to speak to you too, Steve.

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