KAMPALA, Uganda – South Sudan since Dec. 15 has been hit by escalating violence that has raised fears of civil war in the oil-producing East African nation.
Here's a look at the world's newest nation:
Following a 2005 peace deal reached after decades of a brutal war with Sudan, the people of southern Sudan in January 2011 voted overwhelmingly to secede. South Sudan became an independent country later in 2011. The two Sudans frequently accuse each other of supporting rebels across the border. Even before the latest unrest, South Sudan's military was trying to quell a rebellion in its largest state, Jonglei. The two countries have issues left over from the 2005 peace deal; the most contentious are the separation of their once-unified oil industry and the demarcation of the border.
Roughly the size of France, the landlocked South Sudan has a population of at least 10.8 million. The population is largely young, with 51 percent under the age of 18. Only 27 percent of people aged 15 and older are literate, according to the World Bank. Annual per capita income was $790 in 2012 and at least 50 percent of the people are poor, the World Bank said. South Sudan, which is largely Christian and animist, has many ethnic groups. The dominant ones are the Dinka, the largest, and the Nuer, the second-largest; the two groups have a history of ethnic tension.
Salva Kiir, a veteran of South Sudan's war of independence, is the chairman of the ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and has been president since independence. Riek Machar, the former vice president who is now the alleged leader of renegade forces controlling some parts of South Sudan, is the deputy chairman of the SPLM. Kiir and Machar were involved in a power struggle that culminated in the ouster earlier this year of Machar, raising ethnic tension. Kiir is Dinka, while Machar is Nuer. Both became South Sudan's most visible leaders after the death in 2005 of John Garang, who had been the undisputed leader of the South Sudanese people in their quest for independence. Machar, himself a veteran of the war with Sudan, has become Kiir's main political rival. Machar says he will contest the presidency in 2015.
Kiir says the recent violence was triggered by an attempted coup mounted by soldiers loyal to Machar, but some officials have disputed that account. Choul Laam, a senior official with the SPLM, said violence broke out Dec. 15 when Dinka guards tried to disarm their Nuer colleagues. Violence in the capital, Juba, spiraled from there. Although Juba is now calm, fighting persists in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile. The United Nations is investigating reports of mass killings, and the top U.N. humanitarian official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said this week that he believes the death toll has surpassed 1,000. The absence of state institutions across much of the country, a factionalized military and a history of violent ethnic rivalries account for the country's "combustible security climate," according to the Eurasia Group think tank. More than 120,000 people have since been internally displaced, according to the U.N.
OIL AND THE ECONOMY
South Sudan inherited three-quarters of Sudan's oil production when it declared independence in 2011, but its oil exports are pumped through pipelines running north into Sudan. South Sudan gets nearly 99 percent of its government budget from oil revenues, and the country reportedly earned $1.3 billion in oil sales in just five months this year, according to the watchdog group Global Witness. Oil has been a constant source of tension with Sudan, and last year sparked a military confrontation between the two sides when the south captured the disputed town of Heglig, which is responsible for more than half of Sudan's oil production. Without a history of formal institutions, rules or administration accepted as legitimate by its society, South Sudan's government "still struggles to provide basic services to the population," according to the World Bank.
The country has been plagued with corruption, especially over the government's handling of oil revenues. In a letter last year, Kiir asked more than 75 former and current senior government officials to return an estimated $4 billion in stolen funds to the country. At the time, Kiir issued a decree ordering all public officials to declare their assets to a government commission that fights corruption.