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 CNS Story:

SUDAN-RETURN Jan-18-2011 (620 words) With photo. xxxi

Irish nun says Southern Sudanese return from North out of fear

By Sarah MacDonald
Catholic News Service

DUBLIN (CNS) -- An Irish nun working in Southern Sudan said Southerners were returning from northern Sudan for fear of what will happen after results of the referendum for the South's independence are announced.

"Many of these people left up to 20 years ago. They fear that when the South officially announces its intent to separate, it will bring trouble to Southerners in the North," said Loreto Sister Orla Treacy, principal of the only secondary school for girls in Southern Sudan's Lakes state.

"The government and aid groups have promised the returnees support, but for now they are camping in local schools and centers. In our local parish school in Rumbek there are 400 families; they have been there since the beginning of January," she told Catholic News Service in an e-mail in mid-January.

"The younger children have never known the South, and some don't even know the local language," she added.

The African Union Observer Mission's preliminary verdict on Southern Sudan's Jan. 9-15 referendum vote on secession called the vote "free, fair and credible, a true reflection of the democratically expressed will of the people of Southern Sudan." Results are expected to be announced in early February, and the citizens are generally believed to have voted to secede.

Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek, the capital of Lakes states, told CNS he was "moved with tears of joy to see the jubilation of the people of Southern Sudan at the referendum."

The bishop, an Italian, added that "at the core" of the referendum was "a quest and a longing for peace that most people elsewhere in the world cannot even begin to imagine because they have not known what these people have suffered."

In 2005, civil war between the predominantly Muslim North and the mainly Christian and animist South ended after almost continuous conflict since 1983 that left 2 million people dead. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war mandated the independence referendum.

Despite its oil resources, Southern Sudan is one of the least-developed regions in the world with little infrastructure and no developed industry. All hopes are focused on the region's plentiful oil deposits, though these are landlocked and the refineries are located in the North.

Bishop Mazzolari said the North is unlikely to assist the South with its development and, until the South manages to train its own skilled workers for this and other industries, it will have to rely on the international community for assistance.

The bishop expressed concern for the well-being of returning Southern Sudanese from the North.

"They are a real concern both in relation to how we make a home for them and what forced them to leave the North," he said.

He and other church leaders also have expressed concern about the safety of Christians and Southern Sudanese who remain in Northern Sudan if the South secedes.

Sister Orla said political leaders in the South "don't talk about rebuilding the region, they talk about building! Southern Sudan was never developed and what was built was destroyed in the last two civil wars."

She added: "Our infrastructure is poor, education and health departments are seriously lacking. We hope that with a new nation, the country will move into the 21st century. But we have a long road to go. With poorly trained teachers and a lack of nursing and medical staff, it will take more than a generation to improve the lives of the people here.

"We have great dreams and hopes for a new Southern Sudan, but there will be struggles ahead," she added. "We have many tribes, some larger than others, cautious leadership -- and wise decisions will be needed to involve all tribes in the forming of a new Southern Sudan."


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