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South Sudan prepares for life as a country

JUBA, Sudan - The mud-hut town of Juba has earned a promotion to world capital later this year. But Southern Sudan needs far more than its own currency and a national anthem: Most of the roads here are dirt and even aid workers live in shipping containers.

In a little more than five months, Southern Sudan is scheduled to become the world's newest country. Final results from last month's independence referendum announced yesterday show that 98.8 percent of the ballots cast were for secession from Sudan's north.

Juba is oil-rich but lacks the embassies and skyscrapers of other world capitals. There was only a mile or two of pavement just a year ago, and the local archives are stored in a tent. Many, though, see great potential, and are excitedly looking forward to controlling their own destiny.

Entrepreneur Soloman Chaplain Lui, 42, is overseeing the construction of 160 apartments and hotel rooms on a rocky bluff overlooking Juba. The country's largest swimming pool sits here, though its water is murky. His arm points toward empty fields where he hopes to one day build a mall and a golf course. "As I talk to you now there are many people flowing here," he said. "A new country is being born."

Two decades of war between the predominantly Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south killed at least 2 million people before a 2005 peace agreement was reached. Decades of war and poverty have kept Southern Sudan in a decrepit state, and its 8.7 million people live in one of the least developed regions in the world.

Critical negotiations still must be held with the north to decide on citizenship rights, oil rights and even the final border demarcation. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir backed the final results yesterday and said he wanted to be the first to congratulate the south on their new state.

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