July 9, 2011 / 3:04 PM / 8 years ago

South Sudan leader offers peace to rebels and hotspots

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir promised to bring peace to troubled border areas and offered an amnesty to armed groups fighting his government, hours after his state declared independence from the north on Saturday.

South Sudan seceded on Saturday — a separation won in a January referendum that was the climax of a 2005 peace deal which ended decades of civil war with the north.

“I want to assure the people of Abyei, Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan that we have not forgotten you. When you cry, we cry. When you bleed, we bleed,” Kiir said at the independence ceremony in the southern capital Juba, watched by world leaders.

“I pledge to you today that we will find a just peace for all,” he said, adding he would work with north Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to attain that.

All the areas he mentioned are on the ill-defined border the south shares with the north — all of them hotspots that analysts fear could reignite violence after the separation

Abyei is a fertile area, with some oil reserves, claimed by both sides. Darfur is the scene of an eight-year insurgency against Khartoum.

Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are both in north Sudan but include large populations which sided with the south during the civil war. Kiir’s statement may have been intended to connect with those groups who have since felt left behind by Juba.

Armed groups in Southern Kordofan have been fighting northern government troops since early June.

“I would like to take this opportunity to declare amnesty for all those who have taken up arms against Sudan,” Kiir added.

At least seven rebel militia are fighting government forces in remote parts of South Sudan.

Many of them say they are fighting against what they see as corruption and ethnic discrimination in the south’s government, charges denied by the state. Kiir has offered pardons before with limited success.

Kiir told the crowd he would also fight the “cancer of corruption” in the south.

“This new nation shall strive to live in peace with its neighbours north, south, east and west,” Kiir said.

He later said that having lived with war for so long, South Sudanese would never allow themselves to be categorised as “aggressors or troublemakers.”

Reporting by Alex Dziadosz; Writing by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Louise Ireland

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