Leaders of Sudan’s Catholic Church believe peace is still possible in Sudan as the country faces a vote on independence in the south many fear will lead to renewed conflict.
Southern Sudanese started registering Monday for the poll on 9 January 2011. The disputed oil-producing Abyei region is due to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on whether to join the south or the north.
Preparations for voting are behind schedule and there has been a build up of troops on the border between north and south.
The Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference held its Plenary Assembly in Rumbek, southern Sudan from 8-15 November.
The bishops said, “We are acutely aware of the uncertainty, fear and even despair that burden the people of Sudan… However these tensions need not and should not lead to war. Regardless of the choices made and the lines drawn, peace is possible.”
The bishops called for a “free and fair” vote, saying that manipulation of the voting is likely to lead to “uncertainty, instability and even violence.”
The communiqué said, “We repeat our demand and our hope that the referenda for the south and Abyei be held on time in a free, fair and transparent manner.”
The bishops said: “If the outcome is secession… cooperation and collaboration must continue in a spirit of good neighbourliness. Mutually beneficial compromises must be reached over issues such as oil, borders and citizenship.”
The bishops say a large movement of people could be one result of the polling, and urged Caritas and other humanitarian agencies to provide the necessary resources, facilitation and protection for their movement and resettlement.
“We also call upon both governments in Sudan to respect the rights and dignity of minorities in north and south, and to guarantee their protection,” they said.
“We call upon the international community to prioritise the safety and security of these vulnerable communities, particularly southerners in the north and the people of the transitional areas.”
The Catholic leaders said an international mechanism was necessary to resolve any disputes and ensure the will of the people would be upheld.
“In the event that there is a dispute,” they said, “We call on all people to exercise civic responsibility and refrain from impulsive actions while the parties and the international community solve it through peaceful negotiations.”
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