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SUDAN-BISHOPS Nov-16-2010 (580 words) With photos posted Nov. 15. xxxi

Sudanese bishops warn buildup of troops 'not conducive to peace'

By Catholic News Service

RUMBEK, Southern Sudan (CNS) -- The buildup of troops of both sides of Sudan's North-South border "is not conducive to peace," said Sudan's Catholic bishops.

They called for the development of mechanisms to guarantee the will of the people will be upheld no matter what the results of January ballot measures on the future makeup of the country.

In a statement issued Nov. 14, near the end of a weeklong meeting, the bishops also called for calm after the results of the votes are announced and appealed especially to young people "to refrain from being drawn into political violence and to heed the call for peace and restraint in order to build the future they desire."

The bishops said referenda on Southern Sudan and Abyei and popular consultations on the relationships of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states to Sudan were intended to bring healing to the country. Instead, they said, as they draw closer, "we are acutely aware of the uncertainty, fear and even despair that burden the people of Sudan."

They listed several concerns that seem to put in doubt peaceful outcomes to the Jan. 9 referenda, which include a vote on whether Southern Sudan secedes from the rest of the country.

The troop buildup is especially problematic around oil-rich Abyei, which has been promised a separate referendum on whether to become part of Southern Sudan or remain with the North. The Sudanese government in Khartoum has insisted that the Misseriya -- a nomadic group that annually visits the Abyei region -- be allowed to vote, a move that has been resisted by the mostly Ngok Dinka residential majority.

Both referenda were guaranteed under terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended nearly three decades of civil war. Although the most current war began in 1983, the conflict pitted the Arab North against the African South on and off for about half a century.

The dividing lines were drawn during Britain's 1899-1956 colonial rule over the area. Arab culture and language and Islam were promoted in the North, while a policy of tribalization and Christianization was introduced in the South.

If it secedes, Southern Sudan, rich in oil deposits, would need to cooperate with northern Sudan to transport its oil.

The bishops said the conclusion of the peace agreement "should not lead back to the violence which it was designed to resolve."

"The people of Southern Sudan and Abyei have built up great expectations," the bishops said. "The right of self-determination is a basic human right; the referenda are a vehicle to express that right. Manipulation of the referenda is unethical and immoral. If the referenda prove to be flawed or manipulated, this is likely to lead to uncertainty, instability and even violence."

The bishops said southerners living in the North were living in "a climate of fear," and "inflammatory statements from senior government officials as well as the media have heightened tensions. The discourse among ordinary northerners appears to have changed, with threats and intimidation against southerners."

They said southerners were moving back to Southern Sudan in large numbers, but those who remained in the North must be protected. They said the same applied to northerners living in the South.

Northerners fear secession; southerners fear a unity that binds and oppresses, the bishops said.

"Fear needs to be replaced by hope so that all people can live in freedom and peace," they said.

"Secession is a division of land, not a division of peoples," they said.


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