South Sudan takes final steps toward statehood

JUBA, Sudan Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:51am EDT

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JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Stephen Lugga's office is a converted cargo container. An air conditioner rattles away while the undersecretary for telecommunications does his bit to get South Sudan ready for independence on July 9.

With days to go before the south splits from the north, his tasks include registering a domain for websites and securing an international dialing code to differentiate it from the north which will keep Sudan's existing +249 number.

"We want our domain name to be 'SS' for 'South Sudan', but people are telling us 'SS' has an association in Europe with Nazis," Lugga told Reuters as dogs chased a monkey round a muddy field outside, which is full of containers and prefabricated buildings like his that house other ministry offices.

"Some might prefer us to have a different one," Lugga said. "We have applied for it anyway, SS, and we are waiting for a reply."

South Sudanese are racing to create the trappings of state for when the Republic of South Sudan becomes the world's newest nation after a January referendum in which more than 98 percent of southerners voted for secession.

Some weighty issues have been ticked off, like drafting a new constitution. Others such as when to issue a new currency are being finalized. Challenges such as how to govern a country racked by violence and brimming with guns will not be resolved soon.

But there is plenty that can be done as the time to the deadline is counted down by a clock set up in the center of Juba, the scruffy capital with potholed roads where motorbikes swerve between goats and cows, and where fuel shortages mean the power supply is sporadic.

"SALUTING OUR MARTYRS"

Inhabitants says it is "the world's biggest village."

"We have been promised a new international dialing code within 48 hours of secession," Lugga said. "The international body (who allocate these codes) is just waiting for the U.N. to recognize us (South Sudan), which it will."

On the other side of Juba, at a cultural center and one of the few buildings that has more than one storey, southerners practice the new national anthem.

The brick building stands in stark contrast to the shacks on Juba's outskirts, made of corrugated iron, bits of old wood and sheets of plastic to keep out the seasonal rains.

The anthem closes with the lines: "Saluting our martyrs whose blood cemented our national foundation, we vow to protect our nation. Oh God, bless South Sudan."

Sudanese in the south, where most people are Christians or followers of traditional beliefs, fought for two decades against the mainly Muslim north until 2005 treaty promised them the chance to vote on secession after a six-year interim period.

The war was fueled by ethnicity, ideology and oil, as well as religion.

Juba, neglected as that conflict raged and which has seen little development even with six years of peace with the north, is being tarted up for the independence celebrations.

Some makeshift homes have been demolished and an army of street sweepers and tree planters work to re-style the city.

"(Given) the urgency of the situation, some companies have hired hundreds of people so that they can accomplish the work in the course of a few weeks," said Jok Madut Jok, the south's undersecretary for culture.

NEW POWERS

"If there are small things here and there that are uncompleted it will be no matter because our people will still be able to express their excitement," he said.

On the political front, a new draft constitution has been written. Some changes to the interim constitution involved removing references to a unity government and references to the presidency with its seat of power in Khartoum.

Other changes grant the president new powers over states in the south and parliament. Limits on presidential terms disappear, a move analysts say could end up creating a state dominated by the party of southern President Salva Kiir.

The constitution is set to become law during the celebrations a week from Saturday.

The new charter also charges the South Sudan Central Bank to launch a new currency. It will be called the South Sudan Pound.

"The government wants a new currency in part for symbolic reasons, as a statement, but it was suggested they leave it for a year or so, which they seem to have agreed to," one foreign government official said.

Analysts have said that issuing a new currency without close coordination with the north about the timing and exchange rate could lead to a swift devaluation and push up inflation.

Elsewhere in Juba, the south's information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, describes how the new nation will building up relations independently with the rest of the world.

"As the new republic is born we will be moving into about 34 embassies and consulates ... maybe that would be built up little by little as our relationships (grow)," he said, adding that the number of missions could reach more than 50.

"On July 9, we expect to have our passports ready," he told a news conference. "Those of you who have Sudanese passports, you can keep them as souvenirs."

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