South Sudan President Salva Kiir (R) and First Vice-President Riek Machar (L).jpg
A file photo dated 29 April 2016 shows South Sudan President Salva Kiir (R) shaking hands with former rebel leader and First Vice-President Riek Machar (L) after a new unity government was sworn-in, Juba, South Sudan.
Photograph: EPA/PHILLIP DHIL

When South Sudan became independent from Sudan five years ago, hopes were high that independence would bring peace and development to the nation devastated by decades of civil warfare.

But after the world's youngest nation marked its fifth independence anniversary on Saturday, hardly anything seemed to have changed as the country again saw scenes of fighting, bodies on the streets and people fleeing.

From the moment Sudan in 1956 achieved independence from Britainand Egypt - who had jointly ruled the country since 1899 - conflictbetween southern rebels and a string of northern governments becamethe norm.

The first war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south lasted from independence until 1972, when a peace dealgranted the south autonomy.

Some 500,000 people died in the conflict - a number that was to bedwarfed by its next stage, which broke out in 1983.

The fragile peace was shattered when the north was seen asviolating the 1972 agreement by attempting to control the south - amove partly prompted by the discovery of oil straddling thenorth-south border - and impose Islamic law, or sharia, on a regionthat did not practice the religion.

This time the war, fought in the south, lasted over two decades and claimed an estimated 2 million lives - mainly from hunger anddisease.

It took until 2005 for peace to arrive in the form of an agreementthat gave the south autonomy until a referendum on independence was held.

No less than 99 per cent of the South Sudanese had backed the referendum, leading to the independence of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Yet independence brought little improvement for the South Sudanese, as it only took a few years for the country to sink into a new spiral of violence.

A long-running power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, turned violent in December 2013.

The conflict divided the presidential guard and the army, partly along ethnic lines, sparking massacres between the Dinka - Kiir's ethnic group - and the Nuer, to which Machar belongs. South Sudan's two main ethnic groups represent about 36 and 16 per cent of the 11-million-strong population, respectively.

Fighting spread around the country, with tens of thousands killed and more than 2 million displaced.

The conflict took its toll on farming, with up to 4.8 million people now facing food insecurity, according to the UN.

The military conflict calmed down after Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August 2015, with mainly independent armed groups continuing to operate in the country.

But hopes of peace were again dashed as the five-year independence anniversary saw a flare-up of the conflict, which spread from Juba to other locations and threatened to plunge the country into a new full-scale war.

Latest news

Trump-style rhetoric is making world more dangerous, Amnesty says

Divisive and "poisonous" language used by politicians such as US President Donald Trump is putting vulnerable populations at risk and making the whole world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International charged on Wednesday.

Canada soon to begin resettling Iraqi refugees, most of them Yezidis

Canada will resettle 1,200 survivors of the Islamic State campaign to target religious minorities in northern Iraq, Canadian officials announced Tuesday. 

Breitbart editor resigns after release of paedophilia comments

Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial editor at the far-right Breitbart news website, resigned Tuesday after the emergence of recordings in which he appears to defend sexual relationships between young boys and older men.

Trump administration opens door for mass deportations

The US Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork Tuesday for mass deportations of immigrants living illegally in the United States under an executive order by President Donald Trump last month.

Brexit bill: House of Lords says public can change mind on leaving EU

The British public should be able to change their minds on Brexit - just as Prime Minister Theresa May did, the upper chamber of parliament heard Tuesday during a marathon debate on legislation to kick off EU negotiations.

Italian lawmakers, rights activists clash over gay sex club scandal

Gay rights activists and conservative politicians clashed Tuesday after the chief of Italy's anti-discrimination office quit over allegations that money had been authorized for gay sex clubs.

EU countries agree new rules to avoid tax evasion

European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday reached a political agreement on new rules to ensure that multinational corporations do not declare profits in the countries where they pay the least tax but in the countries where they generate it.

Trump condemns "horrible, painful" anti-Jewish incidents

US President Donald Trump condemned a recent spate of threats against Jewish community targets across the United States, during a visit Tuesday to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

FinMin expects Croatia to exit Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said on Tuesday Croatia could exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring and that it was showing progress in correcting macroeconomic imbalances.

Austria seeks to create jobs, but new EU immigrants need not apply

Austria plans to create 160,000 jobs in the next three years by subsidizing companies, but the project has raised concerns because it effectively excludes people who recently immigrated from other EU countries.

Juncker: Not good for W. Balkans that some in Washington want to water down EU

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday it was not good for Western Balkan countries that some people in the new US administration gave the impression of being against the European Union because those countries needed the prospects of EU membership.

Citizens invited to help create Croatian version of Monopoly

A project to create a Croatian edition of Monopoly, in which citizens can participate by submitting proposals and which could become a souvenir for tourists, was presented at a press conference on Tuesday.

German state approves full-face veil ban

Legislation that bans face veils in select public spaces and situations was agreed by the government of the southeastern German state of Bavaria on Tuesday.

Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok named Asia's best for third year

Bangkok's Indian eatery Gaggan on Tuesday was named the best restaurant in Asia for the third consecutive year by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

HGK: 16 Croatian companies to exhibit at IDEX defence exhibition

Sixteen Croatian companies will exhibit their products at the 13th IDEX 2017 defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, to be held on February 19-23.