South Sudan cabinet sacking: US and EU 'concerned'

South Sudan soldier (file photo) Security remains precarious two years after South Sudan's independence

The United States and the European Union have urged South Sudan's leaders to maintain calm and prevent violence after President Salva Kiir sacked his cabinet including his deputy.

The US said it was "deeply concerned by the risk to stability" the decision posed to the world's youngest country.

Mr Kiir sacked the cabinet two days ago in an apparent power struggle with Vice-President Riek Machar.

Oil-rich South Sudan became independent in 2011 after decades of conflict.

Numerous armed groups remain active in the country.

'Critical'

South Sudanese foreign affairs ministry spokesman Mayek Makol said President Kiir is holding consultations as he plans to form a new government.

He however declined to say how long the consultations would last.

"It could be three days, four days, a week," he said.

In the meantime senior civil servants are running the country, one of the world's least developed.

In a statement, the US state department said: "It is critical that South Sudan stay true to the vision it laid out for itself two years ago at its independence."

More than 1.5 million people were killed and a further four million displaced during the conflict between the south, where most people are Christian or follow traditional religions, and the mainly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north.

But the country has suffered chronic economic problems since then and its stability has been hampered by lingering rows over territory and oil with its northern neighbour Sudan.

It is governed by the SPLM, which led the fight against Khartoum.

As well as the cabinet, President Kiir also sacked SPLM head Pagan Amum and 17 police brigadiers.

The president gave no clear reason for the move, but analysts say he and Mr Machar have been embroiled in a power struggle for months.

Recently some of Mr Kiir's colleagues have hinted at discontent with his leadership.

Mr Machar, who had been stripped of some of his powers in April, had hinted that he may stand against Mr Kiir for leadership of the SPLM before the next presidential election in 2015.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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