Christian, Muslim Leaders Launch Campaign for South Sudan's Independence

A coalition of Christian and Muslim leaders in south Sudan has urged people to vote for independence in a referendum taking place next January to decide the troubled nation's fate.

The Sudanese Religious Leaders Referendum Initiative launched this week believes that people in the south are "second class citizens" within a united Sudan.

"We have seen that the way to unity is destructive, but that the way to secession is better for the people of southern Sudan," Bishop Paul Yugusuk of the Episcopal Church of Sudan was quoted as saying by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"If we remain in a united Sudan, definitely we will remain as a second class citizen, when you like it or not," he added.

A fragile peace has existed between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended a 22-year civil war between the two regions in which 1.5 million people died.

The CPA was agreed by the north and south to end years of conflict over ethnicity, religion and access to natural resources, including, gold, cotton and oil.

The peace deal also promised southern Sudanese the right to choose whether they wanted to remain part of a united Sudan or choose independence.

Bishop Arkanjelo Wani of the African Inland Mission, however, said unity had "never been attractive."

"[W]e are saying, the time for unity is over," he said.

Wani Gaden of the state Islamic Council for the southern region of Central Equatoria, meanwhile, said he would tell Muslims that he was "for independence".

And Yugusuk said at the launch of the Sudanese Religious Leaders Referendum Initiative that the position of its Christian and Muslim members was "to lead the people to the independent south Sudan."

The referendum on the south's independence coincides with another one taking place to determine whether the central region of Abyei will join north or south Sudan.

Human rights and aid organizations, including Global Witness and Refugees International, warned this week that a return to civil war was likely unless the north and south were able to come to an agreement on sharing oil revenue and they could ensure that the referenda were fair.

"Alarmingly, the current level of preparation is poor and the possibility of holding two free, fair and peaceful referenda in January 2011 is becoming more difficult as each day passes," they warned.

"It is imperative that the guarantors urgently redouble their efforts to ensure adequate preparations for the referenda, and help secure agreements on sensitive issues such as border demarcation and oil sharing."

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