S Sudan becomes worlds newest nation tomorrow

Juba/Kampala: After decades of brutal war which killed two million people, oil-rich South Sudan finally becomes independent from Sudan`s Khartoum-ruled north tomorrow in an emotional celebration to be witnessed by a host of foreign dignitaries, including Vice President Hamid Ansari.

Some 99 per cent of southern Sudanese had voted for independence from the north of Sudan in a referendum held in January. The poll was agreed as part of the 2005 deal to end the civil war.

However, recent clashes between Sudanese military and Southern Sudanese forces in the Southern Kordofan region have raised concerns that conflict could flare up again.

"This is a fragile and fraught moment as well. It cannot and must not be taken for granted," US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who is leading a bipartisan American delegation to the independence celebration in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, said yesterday.

She asked the northern and southern governments to resolve issues related to the resource-rich area of Abyei and other border regions.

South Sudan had reached a comprehensive peace agreement with North Sudan in 2005, brokered by US Secretary of State Colin Powell under former President George W Bush, that stopped the civil war and paved the way for the January referendum.

India was one of the first Asian countries to open a consulate in Juba in 2007.

"It is a historic occasion. A new country is coming into existence and it is appropriate for India to be there for the celebration of independence. It is the final product of efforts of international community to bring about a peaceful resolution," said Vice President Ansari, who will represent India at tomorrow`s independence day celebration in Juba.

India has a sizeable presence in UN forces in Africa and "we have played a major role in Africa`s de-colonisation," Ansari said.

"Everyone in Africa knows this. This is now past. We seek a cooperative relationship as we go into the second decade of this century," he told reporters accompanying him to Juba via Kampala.

Ansari said India`s presence at the historic occasion in Juba, the world`s 193rd country, tomorrow reflected its age-old ties with Sudan in particular and Africa as a whole.