JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan became the world's newest nation early today, officially breaking away from Sudan after two civil wars over five decades that cost the lives of millions.
In the new country's capital, Juba, streets pulsed with excitement. Residents danced, banged on jerry cans and chanted the name of the world's newest president, Salva Kiir. One man kneeled and kissed the ground as a group ran through the streets singing "We will never, never, never surrender."
"Ah, I'm free," said Daniel Deng, a 27-year-old police officer and former soldier who broke out in a wide grin.
The Republic of South Sudan earned independence at 12:01 a.m. today. It marks the culmination of a January independence vote guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal that ended the most recent war between the ethnic African south and the Arab-dominated north.
The morning celebrations were joyous for the freedom gained but tinged with the memories of family lost. At least 2 million people were killed in Sudan's last civil war, fought from 1983 to 2005.
"I came here for this moment," said Chol Allen, a 32-year-old minister who escaped Sudan in 2003 and eventually settled in Memphis, Tenn. He returned to Juba two months ago for the midnight party, though he plans to go back to the United States, where he has a 4-year-old daughter.
"We were all born into war. All of us," he said, then pointed at a crowded pick-up truck of youngsters. "This generation will see the hope of the newborn nation."
South Sudan is expected to become the 193rd country recognized by the United Nations next week and the 54th U.N. member state in Africa.
Later today, world leaders will attend a celebratory ceremony. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon already has arrived. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also will attend, as will Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose country already has recognized South Sudan.
The young government faces the huge challenge of reforming its bloated and often predatory army, diversifying its oil-based economy, and deciding how political power will be distributed among the dozens of ethnic and military factions. It must also begin delivering basic needs such as education, health services, water and electricity to its more than 8 million citizens.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a new peacekeeping force for South Sudan, authorizing the deployment of up to 7,000 military personnel and 900 international police, plus an unspecified number of U.N. civilian staff.