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Ethnic rivalries, independence movements and secessionist sentiments have sprouted like mushrooms in a damp forest ever since the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. These separatist tendencies are beginning to crop up in unexpected places.

The latest stirrings are in Brazil where polls show that an independence movement is becoming increasingly popular in the country's southern states. In just two years, the sentiment favoring secession has doubled and now stands at 41 percent.Why the split? Well, for some 150 years, people in northern Brazil have been considered poor cousins at best by the southerners, whose region is more populous and wealthy. The restless southern states make up only about a tenth of the country but produce more than half of its wealth. Northern Brazil is considered backward and corrupt. But northern Brazil is also the home of the national government.

The southerners have tried to revolt before, in 1835, 1893, 1923, 1924 and the last time in 1935. They lost every time, but the feelings still run deep. The southern states are filled with descendants or Italian, Portuguese and German settlers who feel little kinship with the north.

Separatists say that if they were independent, they would qualify as a First World industrial nation.

The recession has strengthened the secessionists who say they produce most of the wealth and pay most of the country's taxes but see 75 percent of it disappear in the north. As economic times get worse, the old longings for independence get stronger.

Fortunately, all of the effort is political and non-violent. There is talk of a constitutional amendment authorizing a regional plebiscite on the issue in 1993. If present trends continue, such a vote might win.

But a split along those lines could ruin Brazil and even lead to another armed confrontation. The world does not need more hatred and still another civil war.

Narrow nationalism and ethnic rivalries must be replaced with a sense of working together to solve common problems. Breaking away into smaller and smaller enclaves that want nothing to do with their neighbors is not the road to prosperity or peace.