An ecumenical delegation of Sudanese religious leaders met with U.N. officials and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday to express concern over what might happen if the critical upcoming referendum in South Sudan is not carried out as planned.
"We told him we came to raise an alarm to the United Nations," said Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan during a press conference held at the Church Center for the United Nations.
"Our fear is going to come if the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is not implemented accordingly, and that is going to be disaster in the country," he added, according to the Episcopal News Service. “And the people that are going to die are going to be innocent.”
In less than three months, South Sudan is expected to vote for independence from the North as part of the 2005 agreement signed five years ago to end the more than two decades of civil war.
Under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a government of national unity was to be formed for a transitional period of six years, during which the South would be autonomous. At the end of the six-year period, a referendum would be held on Jan. 9, 2011, on the issue of a unified Sudan or secession of the South.
Though there is not much time left, observers say preparations for the referendum are well behind schedule. The north-south border hasn't been demarcated and there is little agreement on who is eligible to vote, reported aid group Oxfam. South Sudan, in response, has been contending that northern Sudanese officials are intentionally delaying preparations for the vote.
"The North doesn't want the South to secede," explained Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Marko Kur of Khartoum, who took part in Monday’s press conference.
And the North, he added, also doesn't want to stop its oppression of the South.
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has been wracked by civil conflicts and ongoing political and military violence, which only came to an end with the signing of the CPA in 2005. In the 21 years prior to the signing, Sudan witnessed the worst of the violence with some 1.5 million Sudanese killed and more than four million displaced.
Fearing that a return to war is increasingly likely, the ecumenical delegation traveled to the United States to signal to the United Nations, those who signed the CPA, and the countries that supported the CPA that many things have been left undone.
"There are some fears that the referendum will not take place because the North is not happy," said the Rev. Ramadan Chan, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches.
Notably, however, South Sudan's president has told members of the U.N. Security Council that if the Khartoum-based North tries to delay the independence referendum, the South will hold the vote on its own.
The proclamation came amid U.N. reports of renewed fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels in the troubled western Darfur region.
"The southerners, you know, are ready to go forward with the referendum because they feel it is a democratic chance and a constitutional chance for them to exercise their rights in determining their political destiny," Chan reported.
"[S]o any delay is not in favor of anybody, especially the South," he added.
According to Deng, U.N. officials and Ban assured the delegation during their meeting that they would have representatives in every county of South Sudan to monitor the referendum and that they are mobilizing U.N. protective forces.
South Sudan has also drawn the support of The Episcopal Church in the United States and the World Evangelical Alliance, among other large organizations.
Presently, the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the Roman Catholic Church in Sudan represent two of the largest non-government organizations in southern Sudan.
Sudan, located just south of Egypt, is divided between the predominately Muslim North and the mostly Christian and animist South, which has fought for decades to become independent.
In 1983, when the violence in Sudan escalated, the Khartoum-based government reportedly sought to impose Islamic law on the South, forcing Christians in the South to take up arms to protect their freedom to worship and to ensure they protect their identity as African Christians.
Adwok, in his remarks Monday, stressed that the South's freedom to vote for self-determination is a human rights issue.
"At this juncture, in the third millennium, I don't think anybody can really be expected to remain in slavery when people all over the world are fighting for independence, self expression and democracy," he said.
Many analysts expect the South to vote to secede in the upcoming referendum, which is the final provision of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
In addition to the referendum, the CPA also calls for equal oil revenue sharing between north and south (oil revenues account for 95 percent of Sudanese export revenues and 65 percent of government revenues, according to the International Monetary Fund); fair demarcation of north-south boundaries; and resolution of citizenship issues.
The CPA was signed between the two warring parties - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the South and the Khartoum-based Government of Sudan in the North.