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 CNS Story:

SUDAN-ADVOCATE Nov-12-2010 (510 words) With photo. xxxi

Sudanese bishops ask prelates to advocate for people of Southern Sudan

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Sudan's Catholic bishops urged their fellow African prelates "to lobby and advocate" for the people of Southern Sudan as the Jan. 9 referendum on independence nears.

The bishops warned of the possibility of a return to civil war if the results of the vote -- expected to result in the secession of the largely Christian and animist South from the predominantly Islamic North -- are not upheld by Sudanese political leaders.

The referendum was called for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan's decades-long civil war.

The Sudanese bishops said in a Nov. 10 statement as they met in Rumbek that the agreement required the Islamic government leaders in Khartoum to address the root causes of conflict to convince people living in the South to remain part of a unified Sudan.

However, the bishops said, the government has failed to "guarantee the fundamental rights of the multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic and multireligious society of Sudan," choosing instead to administer the country through the "Islamization of the laws, institutions and political systems."

"All indications are that national unity has not been made attractive to the people of Southern Sudan," the bishops said, observing that Sudan's political establishment "bear a great responsibility for this tragic situation."

The bishops cited several concerns that have gone unaddressed as the referendum nears, including demarcation of the border between the North and South.

The peace agreement also called for residents of Abyei, one of three transitional areas in the center of Sudan, to vote Jan. 9 on whether their region belongs to the North or the South. The bishops pointed out that, amid ongoing disputes, no commission has been established to carry out that part of the agreement and as a result the vote is likely to be delayed.

The bishops raised similar concerns for the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile areas that straddle the North-South boundary.

Failure to offer the people of the three transitional areas "the chance to determine their own future could lead to instability and violence, which could soon draw in the rest of the country and spread to another full scale civil war," the bishops said.

The renewal of violence would "inevitably have devastating effects on neighboring countries and the region," including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and Egypt, the bishops said.

The bishops appealed to a delegation of African church leaders visiting Sudan during the meeting in Rumbek to lobby their governments to see to it that Sudan's referendum takes place as planned and that the vote is free, fair and transparent.

They asked the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa to urge the governments of the countries their members represent to "respect the choice of the people of Southern Sudan" in the referendum and that the minorities in both the North and the South "be recognized and protected in accordance with the international provisions of law if the South chooses secession."

END


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