National Prayer Campaign Launches for Sudan's Worrisome Vote

A nationwide prayer campaign for peace was launched Tuesday ahead of Sudan's upcoming referendum in January, when the South is expected to vote for independence from the North.

The Catholic Church launched the prayer campaign in Sudan just days after The Episcopal Church urged its U.S. members to observe "A Season of Prayer for Sudan." Like other international observers, both church bodies worry that violence will breakout in the months leading up to the highly-anticipated referendum.

Although the scheduled vote is less than four months away, there is still no set date for voter registration. South Sudanese, who are mostly animist or Christian, are frustrated with the mainly Muslim North for what it sees as deliberate feet-dragging in preparation for the critical vote.

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"There are a lot of forecasts of war and all these indications that tell us the situation between north and south is as tense as ever," said Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido, who helped launch the "101 Days of Prayer for Peace" in Juba, South Sudan.

"The least we can do is pray," she told The Associated Press.

The referendum is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended more than two decades of civil war. According to the CPA, a government of national unity would be formed for a period of six years. After that transitional period, the South would be able to vote for autonomy in a referendum.

Governments and human rights organizations fear that the North will refuse to allow the South to secede because of its rich oil fields.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to persuade Khartoum, the capital of North Sudan, to prepare for the referendum. Clinton told Sudan Vice President Ali Osman Taha that the referendum could be an opportunity for improved relations with the United States.

And this Friday, President Obama is scheduled to attend a special summit on Sudan. The summit is aimed at addressing how the world can help Africa's largest country have a peaceful and orderly referendum. The concern of many worldwide is another civil war, which could break out if something goes wrong with the referendum.

The church-led "101 Days of Prayer for Peace" will end Jan. 1, about a week before the referendum. 

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