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Politics of Sudan

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In just over a week, the volatile components behind Sudan’s division into two nations — oil, religion, ethnic rivalry, guerrilla militias, disputed borders — have burst into war. TIME photographer Dominic Nahr has been on assignment in South Sudan’s ironically named Unity State, whose northern edge includes disputed boundaries with its enemy Sudan — one of which is marked only by a white cargo container. In the last nine days, South Sudan forces have pushed north into Sudanese territory, taking the disputed town of Heglig, only to pull back under fire and see enemy soldiers press south instead. Nahr filed this dispatch on Sunday.

Unity State is one of the most frustrating places I have worked. Nothing comes easy. You have to struggle, then struggle some more to get things moving. It took me days to find a truck to hire in the state capital Bentiu in order to get to the conflict areas only to have to it taken away by a local official who allegedly wanted it to tow a bus back from the front lines. A couple of days later a dreadlocked rebel soldier from Darfur–which lies far across the border in Sudan–became angry that I and a companion had taken his photo and chased us down in his Mad Max car, jumping out and cocking his gun with such fury I thought it was going to fly right out of his hands. He then sped off with two cameras.

No one seems to know what’s going on and when I try to reach the front lines I mostly get stalled or put-off by soldiers, commanders and officials. In the end I hitched a ride with southern soldiers to Heglig, a disputed town that South Sudan occupied for a few days. They were less concerned with the fighting than they were with filling the pick-up truck with looted beds, mattresses, laptops and printers from the town. On another drive the hood of our truck, which was held on with rope, flipped up and smashed the windscreen as we flew down a rutted dirt road.

In Heglig, days before it was retaken by the northern army, I wandered over to the nearby oil installations hoping to capture photos of the destruction. There were bodies of dead northern soldiers all over the place. As I got closer to the pipeline I saw a corpse lying in a thick slick of oil, glistening in the sun. The soldier’s head was resting on his arms and I couldn’t see any injuries: it looked like he was sleeping. It really hit me, this moment of calm amidst the chaos, and I knew this was the photograph that captured both the causes and the consequences of the fighting over Heglig.

But it hasn’t all been difficulty and horror.

My current desktop picture is a group photo, including TIME Africa bureau chief Alex Perry and some of my other colleagues, over the border in the Nuba Mountains, where rebel forces are being assaulted by Sudan government based in the north’s capital, Khartoum. We are dirty but happy, leaning on the 4×4 that took us around for a week. It’s still smeared with some of the mud that they use to camouflage vehicles against bombing raids by northern Antonovs.

The reason I was so happy is because the Nubans are as inviting as their mountains that spring from the ground giving refuge and protection. The feeling of a struggle shared by Nuban civilians and rebels alike is innocent and pure. With almost no outside support they have learned to rely on themselves.

The struggle is both genuine and urgent and this is part of the reason I will return and will continue working there. People are starving because the fear of aerial bombardment means they have not planted any food in months. They have already missed two harvests and the bombing is still going on.

I can’t say how this will end. The rainy season will be upon us within weeks washing away the mud roads and blocking off all land access, in and out. A 15-minute downpour a few days ago was enough to turn the dirt roads slick leaving snakelike tracks where cars had slid around.

The only thing I am sure about is that this is not over; it hasn’t been for decades.

Dominic Nahr, a TIME contract photographer, is represented by Magnum.

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The world has a new nation. The Republic of South Sudan officially seceded from Sudan on July 9, ending a 50-year struggle marked by decades of civil war. After a referendum earlier this year on independence passed with the support of 99% of the population of southern Sudan, events were set in motion that led to Saturday's celebration. Joy marked the festivities, but South Sudan faces steep challenges. Although the country has oil reserves and fertile soil, there is much poverty and little infrastructure. Collected here are images from the last several months, showing scenes of daily life, portraits of South Sudanese, and the celebration of independence. -- Lane Turner (36 photos total)
Thousands celebrate their country's independence during a ceremony in the capital Juba on July 9, 2011. South Sudan separated from Sudan to become the world's newest and 193rd nation. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

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Last Saturday, the Republic of South Sudan declared its independence, creating the newest nation in the world -- the 193rd nation to join the United Nations. The new country has been in the making since a referendum last January, when nearly 4 million southern Sudanese voted to secede from Sudan by a margin of more than 98 percent. The region has been involved in civil wars for at least the past 50 years, and the days-old nation is already battling several armed groups within its new borders. Many issues still remain unresolved -- the oil-rich region continues to rely on pipelines that run through Sudan, and a revenue-sharing agreement has not been reached. The new nation, which is comprised of more than 200 ethnic groups, has a largely rural economy, and poverty, civil warfare, and political instability will be the biggest of many challenges for the new administration. Gathered here are scenes from South Sudan as it made its debut on the world stage this weekend. [35 photos]

A Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier stands in line during a rehearsal for the Independence Day ceremony in Juba, on July 5, 2011. (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)

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The southern capital, Juba, is bustling with jubilant citizens and dignitaries as they celebrate the independence of the Republic of South Sudan after a generations-long war that left more than 2 million people dead. Read Christopher Goffard’s story.

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Boris Roessler / AFP - Getty Images

A fly gets some interest by a still nameless baby tiger playing in its enclosure on July 5, 2011 at the zoo in Frankfurt, western Germany. The six-week-old tiger was born at the zoo.

See more animal images in our weekly roundup here.

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Norwegian photographer Espen Rasmussen spent six years photographing refugees in eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Georgia, Norway, Syria and Yemen). In 2004 Rasmussen discovered a common theme in the stories of refugees he found himself covering in places as disparate as Chad and Serbia, and decided to follow in the footsteps of displaced people the world over. Rasmussen writes about this remarkable opening image:

“I took the Janjaweed picture during a trip to Chad in 2004. I stayed in the border areas with Sudan for two weeks, documenting the lives of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in the Darfur province in Sudan. Many of them lived in huge camps, others were forced to live in dry rivers, so that they could water their livestock. I crossed the border into Darfur together with a local town leader, and after a drive of some hours, we saw a group of armed men riding towards us in the desert. We stopped and talked with them, presenting me as a reporter. After following the Janjaweed group for a few hours, I returned to Chad with a set of images. The next day we got news that the group had crossed the border into Chad and attacked a local village, burning down the houses. The Janjaweed militia is responsible for massive violence in Darfur, and is accused of being armed by the Sudanese government.”

You can see the impressive results of Rasmussen’s years covering refugees in his brand new book Transit, or on Transit’s interactive online pages. Photographs courtesy Espen Rasmussen/Panos Pictures.

“They are called the Janjaweed militia “Devils on horseback”. They arrived on horseback through the desert, 30 strong and heavily armed. These are the men who have forced hundreds of thousands to flee and who are responsible for killing and rape in Darfur province, western Sudan. Their leader is decorated with knives, bullet belts, automatic weapons and a spear. The populace are the victims in a conflict involving rebels, the Sudanese army and militant nomads. The Arabian Janjaweed soldiers are accused of the genocide of the non-Arabian part of the population, with help from the authorities.”

“A mother buries her second child in the space of a week. Family and friends have gathered around the tiny coffin in the Soacha slum in Colombia to pay their respects. A year earlier her husband was killed, so the family had to flee from the town of Putumayo. The woman believes that the paramilitary group who killed her husband also killed the children, to prevent them from returning to their home. Her five year old boy was kidnapped and beaten to death, while his eight year old sister was strangled in her bed. Everyday life for the between 3.3 – 4.9 million internally displaced in Colombia is dangerous. Paramilitary groups, the guerrillas and the army fight for territory and cocaine production. Families are forced to flee every day, often to the slums around the capital city.”

Adem (25), Yemen:
“Every day I have to tie my three children to the wall with rope. There is nobody here to look after them. I am afraid they will injure themselves if not, or crawl out of the window. The twins are three years old, my daughter is only two. They are alone from when I go to work around six o’clock in the morning until I come home again around midday. I work as a housemaid, but the money I earn is not enough for both rent and food. I earn around 50 dollars a month, when there is work. My rent is 46 dollars a month. Sometimes I get food from the families I clean for. It pains me to tie up my children. I think about them every single day. How will they grow up? Will they go to school? Will they survive? Like any mother, I dream that they will get an education, go to a university and become engineers or doctors. I just want them to go to school, to have friends and to play like other children.”

“During the escalating violence in Iraq in 2007, the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Baghdad had to close it down and flee. In Syria, in Damascus, he re-opened in the Iraqi neighborhood Jaramana, and has found the same popularity among his customers – just in a different country. All people working in the restaurant are Iraqi refugees.”

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