July 9, 2012 (BENTIU) - Mass crowds took to the streets of Unity State’s capital Bentiu on Monday for the celebrations of first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence.
- A mass of people attending the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence celebration in Bentiu, Unity State, 9 July 2012 (Bonifacio Taban/ST)
South Sudan’s separation from Sudan came after two decades of civil war led to a peace deal allowing South Sudanese to vote on secession last year, an option which they took almost unanimously.
After the vote in January 2011, South Sudan became independent on July 9 becoming the world’s newest nation.
Women, men and young people gathered for the celebration in Bentiu’s independence stadium.
Unity State Governor Taban Deng told the crowd that he appreciates the role played by United Kingdom, Italy, Norway and the United States in bringing about the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in Kenya, between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and former southern rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
He also saluted the role played by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) - an East African body consisting of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda - which facilitated the talks.
He said that these countries "deserved special homage" on the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, as they used their "resources to help us reach [the 2005 CPA] peace agreement".
- Young man holding a South Sudan flag during independence day celebration in Unity State (Bonifacio Taban/ST)
The CPA, however, did not resolve many of the major issues between the SPLM and NCP, only creating processes to resolve them. After six years of sharing power many areas of contention were inresolved, including the demarcation of the north-south border, the status of contested areas, and what price South Sudan would pay Khartoum to export its oil through northern pipelines.
The culmination of these issues and led to clashes between the teo countries armies around the disputed Heglig/Panthou area on the border between Unity State and South Kordofan north of the new international border.
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) occupied the area to 10 days, in response to "aggression" on its territory by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). Juba says that over 80 bombs have been dropped on its territory since independence.
Khartoum denies this and accuses the SPLA have backing their former comrades in arms in South Kordofan and Blue Nile State that have fought SAF since last year, unhappy at Khartoum’s implementation of the CPA in their areas north of the new border.
Governor Deng told the crowd in Bentui that the Heglig conflict showed that South Sudan is "capable of defending our national integrity".
John Thokwath Koang, chairperson of Bursial cultural group, which participated in the first anniversary celebrations, said his group supported the SPLA in defending the country during the recent fighting.
- Disabled SPLA soldiers marching during independence celebrations in Unity State, South Sudan, 9 July 2012 (Bonifacio Taban/ST)
The United Nations has reported numerous bombings on Unity State, including some instances of bombs landing as far into South Sudan as Bentui.
Khartoum claims that it forced the SPLA out of Heglig/Panthou but Juba says it withdrew due to international pressure.
The United Nations and African Union have ordered both sides to agree on the border, oil, citizenship, assets and other outstanding issues by August 2, three months after a UN Security Council Resolution threatened sanctions if an agreement was not made.
Talks were put on hold during the fighting but have resumed in Addis Ababa. South Sudan’s negotiating team have, however, briefly returned to South Sudan for the independence celebrations.
The status of Heglig/Panthou and other disputed areas, including adjacent Abyei, which had it’s own protocol of the CPA calling for a referendum to decide its future, are among the issues under discussion. Abyei’s vote did not take place in January 2011 as the SPLM and NCP could not agree on who could take part.
Governor Deng said that Heglig/Panthou East "shall remain part of South Sudan", restating the young country’s claim over the oil-rich area.
Kuol Jial Bigot, deputy chairperson of the state’s employee’s justice chamber, said that Unity State faced many threats despite it’s independence.
“There are threats in the area of development, the area of agriculture that can promote the life of people and there is threat of infrastructure in the whole nation" said Bigot.
South Sudan underdevelopment was a threat to "the foundation of the nation".
Bigot added that the government needs to eradicate the challenges that prevent the country’s economy from growing.