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It's not often the world welcomes a brand new nation into its fold. Well, that will be the case on Saturday. South Sudan will become the 193rd member of the United Nations and the 54th country in the African Union. Independence comes after a long, bitter war with Sudan's North, which left the South marginalized and underdeveloped. And the potential for conflict still looms.

But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, people are preparing to celebrate.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Traditional dancers, the national choir, and South Sudan's military and other uniformed groups gather together for a full dress rehearsal and flag raising ceremony in the sweltering heat at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum here in Juba. The late Garang was the leader of Africa's longest civil war between mainly Arabic and Muslim Northern Sudan and the largely black African and Christian South.

The 20-year war ended in a 2005 peace deal which the U.S. helped broker.

(Soundbite of a marching Band)

QUIST-ARCTON: Veteran southern Sudanese soldiers were among those proudly marching in the parade.

Mr. JOHN NGUM LANG NGUM: My name is John Ngum Lang Ngum. I'm a freedom fighter. You know, I feel now happy, because we are finally liberated from the Arab rule. Now I'm happy that I'm seeing our flag for freedom waving in the air.

(Soundbite of singing children)

QUIST-ARCTON: Schoolchildren were singing at the parade ground in a mood of excitement and expectation. And this is despite the monumental hurdles an independent, oil-rich South Sudan still confronts. They need to build roads, homes, hospitals and schools, as well as tap the new nation's agricultural and oil wealth, while maintaining neighborly and peaceful relations with the northern half of the country. This follows an overwhelming yes-vote in January's referendum on independence.

Mr. BARNABA MARIAL BENJAMIN (Information Minister, South Sudan): You can see we are sitting at the heart of this continent, where the actually - the virgin resources they have not been exploited. So it needs peace.

QUIST-ARCTON: Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's information minister, says after years of conflict, often poisonous relations with the North must be kept cordial.

Mr. BENJAMIN: Destabilizing each other is not in the interests of the two nations.

QUIST-ARCTON: Most of Sudan's oil reserves are found in the South, but the crude is exported via pipelines in the North. And the two independent states must come to a wealth-sharing agreement. Meanwhile, there has been renewed fighting in the disputed oil-producing region of Abyei, a flashpoint which lies between the North-South border.

Tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese who've lived in exile or were refugees in camps in Northern Sudan are returning to celebrate their hard-won independence.

Hopes are high, says Agyedho Adwok Nyaba.

Ms. AGYEDHO ADWOK NYABA: Coming back home, it was just a pulling. I knew I had to go back home and contribute. Home that I didn't know but I wanted to be there, to be part of this next page.

(Soundbite of drumming)

QUIST-ARCTON: Across town, at St Theresa's Roman Catholic Cathedral, children recite a prayer-poem for South Sudan.

Unidentified Child: God Bless the Republic of South Sudan. Bless us for the Republic of Sudan.

QUIST-ARCTON: The words of the prayer stress that the two separate states should be partners in the future. But there seems little trepidation here in South Sudan about life without the North.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Juba.

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