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Torched homes, gutted shopfronts and fields of rotting corn greeted Laker Betty as she returned to the town in South Sudan’s breadbasket she fled in terror a year ago. She is one of the thousands of civilians tentatively returning to the East African nation after a war that at its height rivalled Syria for the dubious title of the world’s worst conflict, claiming almost 400,000 lives. As President Salva Kiir prepares to welcome rebels into a new government, South Sudan’s pillaged towns and villages show the scale of the challenge in rebuilding even a country endowed with sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves. “There is nothing to eat here, the soldiers cleaned up everything,” said Betty, a 30-year-old mother of three whose looted home in Pajok once sported the relative luxuries of a solar-power system, TV and refrigerator. “What they did here in Pajok has reduced us to zero.” Spared for much of the half-decade civil war that unleashed a refugee crisis, Pajok was overwhelme...

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