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Southern Sudan Forms Autonomous Government

Southern Sudan has announced the formation of its autonomous government. The southern government's formation is part of a peace deal that ended 20 years of civil war between north and south Sudan. Southern Sudanese have high hopes the new government will end decades of marginalization.

Cabinet members of southern Sudan's new government were announced Sunday. Southern Sudan will govern itself following a two-decade civil war with the northern Islamist government. Former foes, the National Congress Party and former southern rebels the Sudan People's Liberation Movement or SPLM have also formed a unity government based in the capital, Khartoum.

South Sudan will be led by President Salva Kiir, a former SPLM commander. South Sudan Democratic Forum Party Chairman Martin Lomuro Elia is the newly appointed minister of agriculture and forestry. Mr. Elia called the southern government's formation an historic event.

"First of all this is the first real government for the south," he said. "And its come as the result of an agreement, which I think, if we have international support, we think that this is an agreement which can be implemented and will make real change for the people of southern Sudan. And may resolve or solve some of the issues which made the south go to war."

Mr. Elia said the new government's priorities would focus on rebuilding infrastructure and in the war-torn south. As part of Sudan's peace agreement, signed in January, southern Sudanese will vote in six years on whether to remain united with northern Sudan or secede and form their own nation. An overwhelming number of southerners have said they will vote for separation.

Mr. Elia said the northern central government will have to deliver on promises to help rebuild the south if it wants the south to vote for unity in six-years time.

Southern Sudan has never been united. Regional and tribal conflicts continue in the south. Throughout the civil war, smaller militias fought the SPLM for control of the south.

News reports say the SPLM was awarded about 70 percent of the ministries in the new southern government. Mr. Elia calls the appointments well-balanced, but admits he still expects complaints.

"I think the system which has been applied here is regional balancing," he said. "So the three greater regions of Bahr El Gazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, if you look carefully, these regions are well-represented. Of course, human beings are human beings, they are going to complain. But I think generally speaking the government is representative of the greater regions of the south.

Rebecca Garang, the widow of charismatic former vice president and rebel leader John Garang, was appointed to the ministry of roads and transport.

It is hoped that Sudan's north-south accord may be used as a framework for ending separate conflicts in Sudan's western Darfur region and in eastern Sudan.