NEWSMAKER-S.Sudan president steers nation to independence

Thu Jun 30, 2011 6:26am GMT

* Kiir and southerners long eyed divorce from north

* South Sudan president insists no return to war

* Sought to end south-south violence with amnesties

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, June 30 (Reuters) - Salva Kiir's reputation as the quiet man of Sudanese politics, with an eccentric taste in cowboy hats, masks a wily operator who is about to steer his impoverished region into full statehood on July 9.

The president of South Sudan, backed by a small group of capable deputies, has spent the past five years locking horns with the region's old enemies in Khartoum, laying the groundwork for most southerners' long dream of independence.

When north and south Sudan ended decades of civil war with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, both sides officially agreed to campaign to persuade southerners to stay united with the north. But it was an open secret that Kiir, and the vast majority of southerners, had their heart set on a divorce.

By most standards, the build-up to that split on July 9 has been bloody and disastrous. Thousands of people have died inside south Sudan over the past two years - in "tribal" clashes. The south says northern-backed militias provoked the violence. Khartoum denies the accusation.   Continued...

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