South Sudan became the world's newest nation early Saturday, officially breaking away from Sudan after two civil wars over five decades.

Residents of the new nation — the Republic of South Sudan — danced in the streets, banged on jerry cans and chanted the name of the world's newest president, Salva Kiir.

South Sudan earned independence at 12:01 a.m. local time Saturday, the culmination of a January independence vote  guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal that ended the most recent north-south war.

Saturday's early morning celebrations were joyous for the freedom gained but tinged with the memories of family members lost.

Chol Allen, a 32-year-old minister, escaped Sudan in 2003 and eventually settled in Memphis, Tenn. He returned to Juba two months ago for the midnight party, though he plans to go back to the U.S.

"I came here for this moment," he said. "We were all born into war. All of us," he said while pointing at a crowded pick-up truck of youngsters. "This generation will see the hope of the newborn nation."

Abdule Taban wore a wide smile during the night's street party, but the 25-year-old was also reflective.

"We are brothers and sisters who suffered for a long time and that's why we are now celebrating, what we will achieve," said Taban.

"In independence we are going to have hospitals and schools and a lot of development around here. Our mothers and sisters died in the past. Hospitals were very far from us."

Later Saturday, world leaders will attend a celebratory ceremony. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already has arrived. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also will attend, as will Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose country already has recognized South Sudan.

John Kuach, a former child soldier who joined the army after his father died in fighting with the north, first fought at age 15. He said Saturday was a big day for the new nation.

"But some people are not happy because we lost heroes, those who were supposed to be in this celebration. So we are thinking, 'Is this true? Is this a dream? A new country?"'

Peacekeeping force approved

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a new peacekeeping force for South Sudan on Friday, assuring the world's newest nation on the eve of its independence of military and police support to help maintain peace and security.

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A crowd of people cheer in celebration of South Sudan's impending independence in Juba, South Sudan. (Andrew Burton/Associated Press)

The council authorized the deployment of up to 7,000 military personnel and 900 international police, plus an unspecified number of UN civilian staff including human rights experts.

"This is a strong signal of support to the new South Sudan," Germany's UN Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current council president, said after the vote. "The council believed that this was a substantial contribution to the security challenges facing South Sudan."

The resolution establishes a new United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan on July 9 for an initial period of one year. It calls for reviews after three months and six months to determine if conditions on the ground would allow the military contingent to be reduced from 7,000 to 6,000 troops.

It gives the UN mission, to be known as UNMISS, a mandate "to consolidate peace and security, and to help establish the conditions for development ... with a view to strengthening the capacity of the government of the Republic of South Sudan to govern effectively and democratically and establish good relations with its neighbours."

The resolution specifically authorizes the mission to support the new government on its political transition, issues of governance and establishing state authority throughout the country, and to advise it on "an inclusive constitutional process," holding elections, and establishing an independent media.

It authorizes UN peacekeepers to support the government in preventing conflict and demobilizing combatants, to conduct patrols in areas at high risk of conflict, and to protect civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence." It also authorizes the mission to co-operate with UN agencies in supporting the government in peace-building activities, including promoting development, the rule of law, security and justice.

The UN has had a 10,400-strong peacekeeping force, known as UNMIS, monitoring implementation of the 2005 north-south agreement, which operates on both sides of the border. Its mandate expires Saturday.

Diplomats said late Friday that Security Council members were close to agreement on a resolution to wind down UNMIS, and it could be approved over the weekend.

Ban proposed a three-month extension to UNMIS but the Khartoum government rejected any extension and said it wanted all UN troops out of the north. Ban, who stopped in Khartoum Friday en route to Juba for the independence celebration, again urged the Sudanese government to extend the UNMIS mandate "at least until the situation calms down" and to end the confrontation in Southern Kordofan.

Leaders from the north and south signed an agreement on June 20 to demilitarize Abyei  and allow and Ethiopian peacekeeping force to move and a week later the Security Council authorized the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops in Abyei for six months.

One unresolved issue is future responsibility for monitoring the north-south border.

The governments of both Sudans signed an agreement on border security on June 29 and the resolution calls on the parties to propose arrangements for border monitoring by July 20. If they fail to do so, the resolution requests the new UN mission in South Sudan "to observe and report on any flow of personnel, arms and related materiel across the border with Sudan."