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South Sudan: 5 key questions answered

On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest country. But it is also one of its poorest, joining the ranks of the most underdeveloped nations on earth. Yet with the rich oil deposits within its new borders, South Sudan may be able to overcome the daunting obstacles it faces – if it comes to peaceful terms with its northern neighbor, Sudan.

Here are five frequently asked questions answered:

By Maggie Fick, Correspondent

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Men from South Sudan display new currency notes outside the Central Bank of South Sudan in Juba July 18. South Sudan started rolling out its new currency on Monday -- the South Sudan Pound -- escalating a point of simmering disagreement with Khartoum after the country split away from the north on July 9.

Benedicte Desrus/Reuters

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1. Why did the Republic of South Sudan secede from the North?

The decision to secede can be traced to the northern Sudanese government's consistent policy of marginalization of the southern part of the country since Sudan became independent in 1956. The people of the South, who are non-Arab, Christian, and animist, have long felt oppressed by their neighbors in the Arab and Muslim North.

The southern liberation struggle led by the late Dr. John Garang called for a unified Sudan "on a new basis," through a representative government that upheld basic rights and respect for Sudan's diverse peoples in the north, south, east, and west of the country. But when the 1983-2005 civil war ended, a signed North-South peace deal granted southerners the right to a self-determination vote after six years.

When that referendum was held last January, nearly 99 percent of southerners voted for secession of the South, rejecting the hope enshrined in the 2005 peace deal: that unity could be made "attractive" to southerners who had suffered for decades under northern rule.

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