Eyewitness Report: Violence Growing As South Sudan Preps for Independence

VIDEO: 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots in referendum.
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Karen Sherman, head of global programming for Women for Women International, recently returned from a trip to Rumbek, Sudan. The country has agreed to be split in two with the south seceding and becoming South Sudan. But tensions have risen in recent weeks when northern troops seized the contested area of Abyei, prompting fears of a border war erupting before a border is agreed upon.

On the cusp of independence, South Sudan is growing rapidly more unstable.

South Sudan is emerging from the longest civil war on the African continent, which decimated infrastructure, whole villages and all economic institutions.

As it struggles to rebuild, a dramatic increase in violence at all levels of society – tribal, roving militias, revenge killings – leaves Southern Sudanese grateful to survive each day.

The violence is not limited to the North-South conflict that has continued for years. It is deeply embedded in the history of this place, an unforgiving part of daily life.

It is increasingly evident that the North is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the official declaration of Southern independence on July 9.

As we speak, Khartoum is working to isolate the South -- selectively bombing strategic areas, arming militias and inciting violence. Sudanese soldiers are moving north towards Rumbek from Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

And so it begins, again.

The price of fuel has skyrocketed in the South and is increasingly scarce. Fuel trucks at the North-South border are regularly turned away by government soldiers patrolling the area.

Power is regularly turned off in hotels due to fuel shortages. The cost of food has risen dramatically and can be difficult to find.

Many in the South think all-out war is inevitable and are preparing to fight.

On a recent trip to Rubek, Southern Sudanese people told me they are ready to die for independence. As one woman said, "I want my rights."

The concept of inherent, inalienable rights is one of the few things worth living for in a place where human life is undervalued, especially the life of a woman.

Women are increasingly victims of violence in South Sudan.

During a recent performance by a dance troupe made up of graduates of the Women for Women International program, one of the dancers received a cell phone call that her brother and his two wives had been pulled off of a bus and had their throats slit by the side of the road in what was described as a revenge killing.

At every turn it seems people here find themselves preparing for celebration only to find news of more violence, more loss.

In a separate incident of tribal violence, a man was beaten with a lead pipe by the side of the road. He was so mangled that our Women for Women International staff initially thought they were beating a dog.

The man later died on his way to the hospital.

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