JUBA, Sudan â€” An alarming wave of violence has racked Southern Sudan in the two weeks since its upcoming independence was announced, raising worries about the long-term prospects for the worldâ€™s newest nation.
The most recent fighting, in which a dozen people died, took place Saturday. It came after a series of seemingly unrelated clashes that together have killed at least 175 people since Feb 3.
The unrelated nature of the disputes heightens concern in a country where a culture of violence has become deeply embedded during decades of civil war and where centralized rule traditionally has been weak or nonexistent.
â€œI think what we are probably seeing now are pent-up issues that have been there all along,â€ said Andrew Natsios, a Georgetown University professor who was a special envoy to Sudan during the George W. Bush administration.
Whether the new government will be able to overcome those divisions could be its most important test when independence becomes official in July.
Southern Sudanese voted on independence in a referendum Jan. 9-15 that was the centerpiece of a U.S.-backed 2005 peace deal to end decades of conflict between Sudanâ€™s Arab-led north and its largely black African south. According to the referendumâ€™s result announced Jan. 30, 99 percent of southern Sudanese had voted for independence.
But that near-manimity started to crumble even before the results were certified and accepted by Sudanese President Omar al Bashir a week later.
On Feb. 3, Sudanâ€™s northern army began to withdraw from the south in preparation for the partition. Former southern militiamen who were aligned with the Sudanese government in Khartoum during the war and had joined the northern army after the 2005 peace deal â€” and are now to be disarmed and discharged â€” mutinied after orders came to pull up northward along with all their equipment.
The fighting broke out first in Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile state, and spread across Upper Nile to at least three other army garrison towns, killing at least 60 people, according to the state government.
On Feb. 9, rebel forces loyal to a renegade general, George Athor, attacked two villages in the southâ€™s Jonglei state, breaking a month-old cease-fire. One of the villages was overrun before the Southern Sudanese military recaptured it. At least 105 died.
Saturdayâ€™s fighting was between the Jur Bel tribe of farmers and the Dinka tribe of nomadic cattle ranchers. The alleged killing Friday of a Jur Bel trader by Dinka tribesmen triggered the fighting.