The Bishop of Khartoum in northern Sudan says that outbreaks of violence will not prevent the country's south from seceding and forming an independent country in July 2011.
“These violent incidents will impede progress, but it will not wash away from them their wish to acquire independence,” Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum recently told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “The wish to be independent from the north is not somehow grafted onto them – it is in their heart that they want to be independent.”
Bishop Adwok said the violence was mostly confined to specific locations, and he did not expect it to expand into a revival of the civil wars that killed millions of Sudanese during the 20th century. But he said it was important for the government in southern Sudan, which is already semi-autonomous, to investigate the violence and work to resolve its basic causes for the good of the future nation.
“It would be best to sit down and discuss the issues,” he said. “We have to ask the people: ‘What is the root of the tension?' If we do not address that, after some months or years it will cause the disturbance to widen.”
The U.N. reports that around 80,000 people have fled their homes since the beginning of 2011 due to fighting in southern Sudan. Although a January referendum on independence from the north was mostly peaceful, and resulted in a nearly unanimous vote for secession, tribal clashes over territory and natural resources broke out in February and intensified during March.
Violence has also erupted between south Sudan's military forces and rebel militias, in oil-producing regions that will belong to South Sudan once it formally secedes on July 9. Government officials in the south accuse the Khartoum government of arming these militias, a charge authorities in the north deny. Hundreds of people, including many civilians, have reportedly died in these clashes.
Between April 1 and 7, the Bishops' Conference of Sudan held meetings in the southern capital Juba. The assembly allowed bishops from both the north and south to discuss measures to ease the transition to independence, conferring among themselves and with government officials.
The Catholic Church is one of the most important social institutions in southern Sudan, which suffers from underdevelopment and problems in governance. Bishop Adwok said that the Sudanese bishops were currently looking to strengthen both their people's faith and the institutions of civil society, often through the same means.
“The Church has always recognized that human formation and education is at the heart of forming a healthy society,” he observed, “and developing schools with a clear Christian identity is very important in the south as well as the north.”