Sudanese Church Leaders: Peace Process Has Reached Critical Point

The peace process in Sudan has reached a critical point, church leaders in the war-torn nation reported Monday.

With less than five months before national elections, leaders of Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) said the 2005 Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement is on the brink of collapse due to contentions over the referendum law, the demarcation of the January 1956 borders, and violence recently perpetrated by other armed groups.

Southern Sudan, meanwhile, is being threatened with famine due to the failure of rains in various parts of the country this year.

"We appeal to our partners to assist us, the Church, in providing for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of our people, and pledge to use all such support, as well as support from the Sudanese Christians, for the well-being of those facing hunger this Advent and Christmas season," expressed the ECS Provincial Standing Committee following the conclusion of their five-day conference last week.

Currently, Southern Sudan is grappling with the legacy of one of Africa's longest and bloodiest civil wars. The two-decade battle between ethnic African southerners and Sudan's Arab-dominated government in the northern capital, Khartoum, has killed an estimated two million people and left tens of thousands displaced and wounded.

Malnutrition in Southern Sudan, meanwhile, is reportedly at 16 percent, with nine out of ten people living on less than $1 a day, and the maternal mortality rate was the highest in the world in 2007, with 2,030 women dying per 100,000 births.

Next year, in April, Sudan will hold national and presidential elections that are required under the 2005 peace deal between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. Sudan is also scheduled to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent.

According to the Episcopal leaders in Sudan, the conclusion that has been drawn is that the escalation of non-traditional de-stabilizing violence – specifically targeting civilians and the government – is intended to negatively affect the elections and referendum.

"It is the escalation … that will make registration and voting in the elections and referendum very difficult," they reported in their statement Monday after strongly condemning all inter-ethnic violence currently witnessed across much of Southern Sudan, the ongoing violence against civilians in Darfur, and the violent attacks on civilians being perpetrated by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the south-west region of the country.

"The Church must act now to counter these effects for the sake of the rights of the people of Sudan," they added.

After reporting on the situation, the Episcopal leaders re-affirmed their commitment to doubling the efforts of the Church in bringing peace and reconciliation to their people, working together with the government "as a force for unity and love amongst our people who have suffered for so long."

They also urged their international partners to take the message of the inviolability of the CPA to their respective governments, who promised to guarantee peace in Sudan.

"Unless international support for the CPA is urgently stepped up … Sudan is in very real danger of descending back into a war which will not harm those people who create it, but which will again destroy the lives of those voiceless masses for which the Church now cries," the leaders stated before concluding their statement.

The Church in Sudan is currently urging all citizens to register and to encourage others to do so, participating fully in the political process in 2010. It is also calling on those involved to put the safety, security, livelihoods and rights of the poorest and most vulnerable first.

"As the Church, we support the right of every individual Sudanese citizen to have a free and fair say in the future of the Sudan," stated the Episcopal leaders.

"We welcome support for this work from any and all governmental, non-governmental and international institutions and pledge to work with efficiency and integrity for the Sudanese people," they added.

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