JUBA, Sudan, April 26 (Reuters) - South Sudan President Salva Kiir, fresh from an election victory, has an uncertain future: he could be the proud father of Africa's newest nation, or the man who takes its largest country back to civil war.
After an overwhelming victory over his only rival, Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former guerrilla group, now faces the task of arranging a referendum next year on independence for the country's semi-autonomous south.
Kiir is expected to form a national coalition government with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) in a bid to garner agreement on issues such as settling the north-south border, an area where much of Sudan's oil wealth is located, ahead of the 2011 plebiscite.
Any major hold-up to the referendum could mean a return to civil war, just five years after the 2005 peace deal that was supposed to put end to decades of conflict.
Here are some facts about south Sudan's Salva Kiir.
* Kiir was appointed southern president just months after the 2005 north-south peace deal, when the SPLM's long-term charismatic leader John Garang suddenly died in a helicopter crash.
* While other members of the southern elite boast academic credentials, Kiir is seen as a no-nonsense army man, most comfortable in the field. He joined the south's first insurgency (1955-1972) at 17 and later became a major in the Sudanese intelligence services.
* Supporters emphasise Kiir's success in persuading a range of southern militias to join southern Sudan's army, and say his patience in handling north-south squabbles has helped maintain stability.
* But many southerners feel he has not been tough enough on government graft despite a 'no tolerance' policy, and criticise the slow development of health, water and education services in the south.
* One of Kiir's biggest challenges will be to maintain harmony between the south's many rival tribes, especially if the region chooses independence from the rest of Sudan.
* While the 2005 accord called for leaders of north and south Sudan to make the case for unity, many southerners believe Kiir is pro-secession. Many of his comments suggest as much.
* Kiir, who is married with eight children, is a devout Catholic and frequently speaks at Sunday services in the southern capital Juba's largest cathedral.
* Kiir is a member of the south's largest tribe, the Dinka, which some feel dominates the government and army.
* He has a penchant for giant cowboy hats.
Writing by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Missy Ryan and Giles Elgood
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