South Sudan: Amid Violence, a New Nation Is Born

VIDEO: ABCs Dana Hughes reports for "This Week" from Sudan.
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The Republic of South Sudan is entering the world as its 193rd nation with an overjoyed population that views this moment of freedom as decades in the making.

As the clock ticked to 12:01 a.m. Saturday local time, according to The Associated Press, local residents danced in the streets, banged on cans and changed the name of the new country's president, Salva Kiir.

VIP's from all over the globe are taking part in the official celebrations Saturday. Even the Vatican has sent a representative. The United States has also sent a high-profile delegation led by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Colin Powell.

They are all there to witness the birth of South Sudan, which gains its independence just six years after ending a bloody civil war with the north that killed more than two million people.

The United States has been involved in the Sudanese peace process for many years. In 2005, George Bush sent Powell, then the U.S. secretary of state, to the region to broker a comprehensive peace agreement that would end the 20-year conflict and begin the road to independence for the south. In the years since, two U.S. administrations have worked to make sure the independence referendum was held without a hitch, appointing special envoys to the region and being intimately involved in the delicate negotiations that followed.

But after the party is over, real questions remain about just how viable this new country will be. Decades of war have left the region as one of the world's poorest. Roughly the size of Texas, South Sudan has less than 100 miles of paved roads, and basic infrastructure such as electricity and water are scarce. It also has an illiteracy rate of more than 70 percent and one of the highest infant mortality rates in Africa.

Since the referendum in January, the young nation has also been dealing with thousands of returnees from the north and abroad without the resources to support them.

"This is a fragile and fraught moment as well," Ambassador Rice told reporters. "It cannot and must not be taken for granted."

For all the bleak indicators, the people of South Sudan, who voted almost unanimously for independence, remain hopeful. They say that even with all of the problems, freedom from Khartoum's repressive regime now gives South Sudan the chance to determine it's own destiny. A right it hasn't had for more than 50 years.

Sentino Makuac, 19, was born in northern Sudan, near Khartoum. Though his family hails from the south, Khartoum is the only home he's ever known. During the referendum in January he and his family picked up and moved back to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. They left their jobs, their schools, their homes, and arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Makuac's family, like thousands of returnees, came back without a promise of work or housing. But the promise of freedom was more than enough motivation to return.

"Here, we have rights, as compared to the situation back in Khartoum," Makuac told ABC News. "Life in Khartoum was difficult because people would always question us ... and this was done in a manner that put your life at risk. But ever since we came to Juba, it has been easy and we can talk freely."

He is hoping that the government will eventually provide his family with land and a place to live. Those expectations, however, are exactly what humanitarian organizations fear. The new government and aid agencies have been overwhelmed with not only returnees, but also refugees from recent violence in the border regions taking place in the lead-up to independence.

"South Sudan will be born into crisis," said Susan Purdin, who oversees the International Rescue Committee's aid programs in South Sudan. "Widening violence is triggering more displacement, threatening the lives of vulnerable civilians and hampering access to communities in need while an existing humanitarian emergency grows worse."

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