Sudanese church leaders fear war if people in the south are unable to vote on their independence early next year. An ecumenical delegation raised the alarm during a meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 11 October at the United Nations in New York as part of a week-long advocacy trip.
Southern Sudan goes to the polls on 9 January to decide on the right to self-determination under provisions of a peace deal between the government in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south, and guaranteed by the UN.
The church leaders fear that the referendum will be disputed, leading to renewed conflict between north and south. They urge the international community to be prepared in case this happens, especially for the large movement of people.
More than two million people were killed and seven million people were forced from their homes during the 21-year civil war that came to an end in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The delegation to the UN included: Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, leader of the Anglican Church, Roman Catholic Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban of Torit and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Khartoum, Rev Ramadan Chan, Secretary General of Sudan Council of Churches, and Dr Sam Kobia, Ecumenical Special Envoy to Sudan, and representatives from Caritas Internationalis and the World Council of Churches.
In a statement, the church leaders said, “Cancellation or postponement of the referendum, or a perception that the referendum outcome does not match the will of the people, will not be understood by the people and will create a dangerous vacuum which could be filled by violence and even a return to war.
“If there is a new war in Sudan, or widespread violence against civilians, then the UN and the international community must bear responsibility for a failure to fulfill their obligations to guarantee the implementation of the CPA and to bring peace to Sudan.”
UN officials assured the delegation that they would have representatives in every county of south Sudan to monitor the referendum.
The church leaders raised concerns about the situation in the Blue Nile, Abyei Mountains and Nuba Mountains, where preparations for the vote were seriously flawed. They warned a return to violence in these areas could “spread to full-scale civil war in Sudan.”
They also warned of a climate of fear in the country. They urged the UN to: “Hold accountable those who abuse the human rights of southern civilians in northern Sudan.”
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