Hundreds of Muslims incinerated a Catholic church complex in the capital Khartoum amid growing hostilities between the Arab-dominated Muslim government of Sudan and the newly independent, predominantly Christian nation of South Sudan.
A mob of several hundred shouting insults at southerners torched the church in Khartoum's Al-Jiraif district Saturday, The Associated Press reported. The church complex, which included a school and dormitories, was mostly used by southerners.
Fire fighters could not put out the fire, according to witnesses.
South Sudan seceded from the predominantly Sunni Muslim north in 2011 after decades of civil war. However, tens of thousands of Christian and animist southerners remained in Sudan.
It is feared that the two nations might witness a full-scale war in the near future over some contentious, unresolved issues, including sharing of natural resources and demarcation of borders.
Officials in the south said Saturday that Sudanese troops attacked villages inside the border and shelled areas including the oil-rich Unity state. "We are building up troops because we think that the Sudanese army is also building up," Mac Paul, deputy director of South Sudan's military intelligence was quoted as saying. Sudan denied the accusations saying the South controls rebels inside its borders and that the shelling was to ward off a major attack by rebels in Sudan's South Kordofan state.
The south had been seeking independence since at least a year before the independence of the region from the British in 1956. The demand resulted in fierce civil wars in the early 1990s after Col. Omar Hassan al-Bashir ousted the then coalition government in a bloodless military coup and became the President of Sudan in 1993. The al-Bashir-led military government introduced an Islamic legal code in the country, and began taking control of the Christian-majority south.
Before the 2011 referendum that separated the South from the north, President al-Bashir said he would change the constitution and make the Sharia law stricter. Christian southerners in Sudan could be at risk as border and other tensions between the two nations often stroke religious and ethnic conflicts.