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South Sudan Marks Third Independence Day, Despite War

FILE - South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar (R) and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (L) hold a priest's hands before signing an earlier peace agreement in Addis Ababa May 9, 2014.

South Sudan Wednesday is commemorating the third anniversary of its separation from Sudan.

But, some say there’s very little to celebrate in the midst of a civil war that has displaced much of the country’s population, famine on the horizon, and corruption.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Tuesday urged President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar to live up to the expectations of their people by laying down their arms and returning to the negotiating table.

Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said South Sudanese have a lot to celebrate because they have freedom. He said the rebels, who he describes as “trouble makers,” have been obstructing negotiations aimed at ending the civil war.

“Preparations are on time. It is a great jubilation that we are getting to the third year of our independence, and the people of the Republic of South Sudan, despite the rebellion, are ready to celebrate their Independence Day in jubilation and happiness. And, we believe that we will overcome the challenges we have,” he said.

Benjamin says South Sudan will emerge from its conflict just like most other countries that have had similar problems.

“There is no country on the continent that has not had crisis, including countries like South Africa, Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, and everywhere there are problems, but you don’t forget the essence of your dignity and freedom. And that’s why we celebrate,” Benjamin said.

Peace talks being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have been stalled due to disagreement over the participation of civil society organizations and faith-based groups.

The rebels have boycotted the talks, arguing that civil society organizations, religious groups and other political parties should not be part of negotiations.

Benjamin said the rebels, whom he describes as “trouble makers,” have been obstructing negotiations aimed at ending the civil war.

“It is the rebels, especially the leader of the rebels, Dr. Riek Machar, who had written to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who is the chair of IGAD, saying that they will not come to the talks if the stakeholders are included in the negotiation process. So, the talks are held up because of the rebel position, not the position of the government, and I think the United Nations is aware of that,” Benjamin said.

He said there is corruption everywhere, including in South Sudan. But, Benjamin said Kiir has dealt with the menace by weeding out the corrupt officials of government.

“Corruption is everywhere throughout the world, including where you are. But, that cannot make people really to forget the vision of their freedom. And, the government is doing a lot in order to curb corruption. That’s why the government was able also to make some reshuffle, where some were taken out of the government,” Benjamin said.

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