JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan swore in Salva Kiir as its first elected president on Friday and the former rebel is likely to lead the semi-autonomous region to independence after a referendum in less than eight months.
Kiir won the April election against his only rival and former ally Lam Akol with almost 93 percent of the vote.
Akol is challenging the win in court, accusing Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of widespread fraud and intimidation during the polls, which was the first time Kiir himself had cast a vote.
The SPLM ended 22 years of civil war with a 2005 peace deal giving the south its own government, wealth sharing, furthering of democracy, and allowing southerners a referendum on secession, due to be held on January 9, 2011.
“The entire system that has continued to underpin the Sudanese state from the dawn of independence, continues today and is presently at an advanced stage of rotting completely,” Kiir told a gathering of about 3,000 people including Ugandan President and close ally Yoweri Museveni and former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.
In the searing heat, the heavily guarded dignitaries were sheltered by cloth tents in a field near the parliament building in southern capital Juba.
The north-south peace deal was supposed to ensure unity was made an attractive choice for southerners but continuous stalling and wrangling over its implementation has caused much resentment and south Sudan’s government has been plagued by corruption. Many southerners have not seen a peace dividend.
The civil war, which raged on and off since 1955 over issues including ideology, ethnicity, oil and religion was the continent’s longest and destabilized much of east Africa.
Kiir will also become the national First Vice President, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s deputy, and the two will form a new government expected to be announced in early June.
Key tasks ahead for the former enemies are demarcating the disputed north-south border, along which much of Sudan’s oil wealth lies, and defining citizenship ahead of the referendum which most analysts believe will end in secession.
Bashir has promised to campaign for unity and, while the SPLM’s official position is the same, Kiir and other officials have made increasingly separatist comments over the past year.
On Friday, Kiir acknowledged there had not been enough development in rural areas and promised to do more to fight corruption. The United Nations estimates half the population in the south is short of food.
Security remains a major concern also. Sudan’s people are heavily armed, refusing to give up their weapons voluntarily after decades of civil war. Deadly tribal clashes are frequent — mostly over cattle raiding.
Writing by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Louise Ireland