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Latest update : 2010-04-26

Is South Sudan another Darfur?

Following Darfur's tragedy, concern has now turned to South Sudan. A peace agreement was signed in 2005 by the north and the south, ending over 20 years of civil war. A referendum is supposed to be held in January 2011. FRANCE 24 met with some Sudanese from the south and discovered fears of a new outburst of violence.

We'd come to Juba, Southern Sudan, to make a film about the region’s hope for independence. According to the peace agreement signed by the warring north and south in 2005, a referendum was to be held in January 2011.

Yasser Arman, the SPLM's candidate in the North, had told us that he no longer believes the referendum will happen. One woman I'd spoken to at a polling station in Khartoum had shared her doubts with us too. The north, she explained, couldn't do without the south and its oil. In the south, people seemed more optimistic and believed the referendum was going to happen.

After much phone-banging, we were finally granted an interview with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir. While waiting to talk to Kiir, we noticed in the waiting room a large model of what the town was supposed to look like. Little buttons allowed us to light up the presidential palace, an ambitious White House look-alike, the government offices and the Central Business District. Neat, straight boulevards linked the buildings to one another; the symmetry used in the model uncommon to African cities.

We then saw Kiir, who came out himself to usher us into his office, where all the interviews are conducted in oversized white leather armchairs. Kiir's hero image is everywhere in the south. His photo is on every wall and every shop and car window in Juba. The first thing that surprised us when seeing him was his height. Even by local standards, he's enormous. He's also clearly acquired a taste for the finer things in life since those long, hard years in the bush. Beneath the hat, the beard is neatly trimmed, the suit expensive and the gold Rolex enormous.

Kiir’s views on decommissioning dominated our interview. Twenty years of civil war had put millions of guns in the hands of the people and ongoing tribal conflict was making them hard to take away. In Jonglei province alone, 2,500 people were killed in tribal conflict in 2009. Difficult to convince people, under those circumstances, to give up their only means of self-defence. And to make matters worse, new guns were entering the country all the time. We'd heard this again and again since we'd been in Sudan. Many believed it was the North's National Congress party that was arming tribes in the south in order to destabilise the would-be breakaway country. Salva Kiir confirmed one half of the story and in coded language hinted at the rest.

SPLA forces, he said, went into villages to take the guns from the people. Sometimes, when villagers refused to give them up without a fight, lives were lost. But no sooner were the Kalashnikovs off the streets than brand new ones were back on them. We asked who was responsible for providing the new weapons. “Those in whose interest it is that the south remains unstable,” he said, but would not be drawn further.

By Melissa BELL , Karim HAKIKI

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