UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The General Assembly admitted South Sudan on Thursday as the 193rd member of the United Nations, sealing the new African country’s independence after decades of conflict.
The assembly vote, by acclamation, followed South Sudan’s independence proclamation in the capital Juba on Saturday, after its people voted in a January referendum to break away from Sudan — a decision accepted by Khartoum.
Applause broke out in the assembly as South Sudan became the first country to join the world body since Montenegro in 2006. The Security Council, which rules on all U.N. membership applications, had recommended the admission on Wednesday.
“Welcome, South Sudan. Welcome to the community of nations,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. Assembly President Joseph Deiss said it was a “historic and joyous moment.”
The South Sudan flag — black, red and green stripes, overlaid with a blue triangle and gold star — was later hoisted outside U.N. headquarters in New York.
The new country will be one of the world’s poorest and inherit a string of disputes with Sudan. But representatives of the two countries pledged on Thursday to put the past behind them and resolve outstanding issues peacefully.
South Sudan’s vote for independence was held under the terms of a 2005 peace deal ending a 20-year war between north and south Sudan in which more than 2 million people died.
Sudan — until now Africa’s largest country — became independent in 1956 but was long plagued by conflict between its mainly Muslim Arabic-speaking north and its black African south, where many are Christian or follow traditional beliefs.
A draft U.N. report obtained by Reuters on Thursday called on the U.N. Security Council to mandate an inquiry into violence into the volatile border territory of South Kordofan.
The report said the conduct of the north’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Southern Kordofan, the north’s main oil state which borders South Sudan, has been “especially egregious.”
Reported acts include aerial bombardment, abductions, arbitrary arrests and attacks on churches, it said. Acts were allegedly perpetrated by forces including the SAF, the report said. If proven, they may constitute “war crimes,” according to the report.
“This U.N. report gives us reasons to fear the worst,” said Philippe Bolopion of the group Human Rights Watch. “It demands a full, prompt and independent investigation, and an unequivocal reaction from the Security Council.”
Presenting the U.N. admission resolution to the General Assembly, South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said South Sudan was an exception to Africa’s practice of adhering to colonial borders and “in no way creates a precedent for separatist tendencies.”
Continuing a show of graciousness by Khartoum over South Sudan’s secession, Sudan’s Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said the people of both countries would continue to be all Sudanese and members of one family.
“This is a new page and we hold out our hand to all,” he told the assembly. “We and our brothers in South Sudan have left bitterness and the wounds of war behind us and we’re looking to the future.”
South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar paid tribute to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for signing the 2005 peace deal and for “courageously accepting the outcome” of the January referendum.
“It is our deepest and most sincere wish to resolve all outstanding matters between north and south safely and peacefully,” he said. “We do not harbor bitterness toward our former compatriots.”
Unresolved disputes between Juba and Khartoum include citizenship and the sharing of oil resources.
There is fighting in Southern Kordofan, and it is still undecided which country will own the border region of Abyei, where a 4,200-strong Ethiopian U.N. peacekeeping force is shortly to deploy.
In Washington, the tone was less upbeat than at the United Nations with a congressional committee discussing the violence in Southern Kordofan. The United Nations estimates 73,000 people have fled fighting there between the northern army and pro-southern troops.
The U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States was pressing for a 72-hour “pause” in the hostilities in Southern Kordofan in order for humanitarian help such as food and medicine to get through.
Committee chairman Senator John Kerry, who is close to the Obama administration, warned that the United States could not change its designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism “if gross human rights violations are taking place.”
Despite having oil, South Sudan will need substantial foreign aid. U.N. chief Ban acknowledged this week that “on the day of its birth, South Sudan ranks at the bottom of almost all human development indicators.”
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham