Sudan on brink of new war, diplomat warns
WASHINGTON (BP)--Sudan stands on the brink of war between northern Muslims and southern Christians and animists unless the international community pressures the government of President Omar al-Bashir, South Sudan's top diplomat in the United States said Dec. 18.
Besides the ongoing genocide in Darfur, in which an estimated 400,000 civilians have been killed by government forces, a scheduled April referendum on secession could derail the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a war in which about 2.5 million southern Sudanese people died, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of the Government of South Sudan Mission to the United States, said.
The peace agreement is in danger because al-Bashir's party "is not implementing it," Gatkuoth told the International Christian Concern human rights organization. Besides the referendum, which Gatkuoth said would go 98 percent for separation, a border dispute and failure to enact a national security law also imperil the peace.
"The role of the international community is to get in now and help us [the South and North Sudanese] to make sure that we work together to avoid war, to have peaceful disengagement and a fair election [and] put a lot of pressure on the NCP to end the war in Darfur," Gatkuoth told ICC, according to a news release from the human rights group.
To prevent renewed fighting and finally stop the genocide in Darfur, people of good will must urge their governments to exert pressure on northern Sudanese officials, said ICC's regional manager for Africa and South Asia.
"We are very concerned about the possibility of another jihad against Christians and animists in South Sudan as well as the ongoing genocide in Darfur," Jonathan Racho said in the statement. "We urge the international community to put pressure on the government of Omar al-Bashir to stop genocide in Darfur and implement its obligations under the CPA."
Information about contacting U.S. government officials is available at www.house.gov, Racho said.
Earlier this month, members of Congress and a bipartisan commission called on the Obama administration to take decisive action regarding what they described as an emboldened dictatorship in Sudan. The House of Representatives members, as well as commissioners of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called for more engagement with Sudan after Khartoum's Islamic regime cracked down on peaceful protesters and members of the opposition party in the National Assembly.
According to reports, at least two top officials of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the primarily Christian party based in the southern part of the country, were arrested. Police beat demonstrators during the Dec. 7 arrests. Also, Sudanese forces fired tear gas into a crowd of about 200 and made dozens of arrests of people calling for democratic reforms outside the parliament building Dec. 14, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The actions call into question full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that closed a two-decade-old civil war between the Arab Islamic north and the mostly Christian south, said advocates for religious freedom and human rights.
"The time has come for Secretary [of State] Clinton and President Obama to personally and actively engage on Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., said in prepared remarks Dec. 15.
When the CPA was signed in 2005, Wolf said, "Hopes were high for a new Sudan. Sadly those hopes are quickly dimming as President [Omar al-] Bashir becomes further entrenched and principled U.S. leadership on Sudan wanes."
A delegation of USCIRF commissioners was in Sudan when the Dec. 7 crackdown occurred. The commissioners met with SPLM officials, who reported on arrests and beatings of themselves and supporters, according to a USCIRF news release. The actions took place after SPLM office holders sought to give a memorandum to the speaker of the National Assembly urging votes on legislation needed to implement the CPA, USCIRF reported.
"The ruling party's lack of good faith and fair dealing on CPA-required agreements in recent months has reached a new low," said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo, who led the delegation to Sudan Dec. 6-10, in a written release. "We watched the CPA being hijacked in front of our eyes."
Their observations on the trip Leo said, led them to believe the lack of action by U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration and others has prompted a bold response from the ruling National Congress Party.
"Leadership will come only from the top, and many of the officials we met were urging the Commission to take home a plea for greater U.S. strength and pressure on recalcitrant signatories," Leo said. "We call upon Secretary Clinton in the next two weeks to send a strong message to the CPA signatory parties, as well as the international community, by personally standing with the peace process and seeking to re-establish a level playing field for fair and full implementation of the CPA."
During the last six years in Darfur, Khartoum military forces and Arab militias supported by the government have instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in the killing of about 400,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping, according to USCIRF. About 2 million Sudanese are homeless in Darfur and another 250,000 are in refugee camps in Chad and the Central African Republic, USCIRF has reported.
While Darfur's crisis involves conflict between Arab Muslims and African Muslims, the civil war of more than 20 years that ended in 2005 involved a campaign by the Khartoum regime against Christians and animists in southern Sudan, as well as moderate, African Muslims.
Sudan is one of eight regimes designated by the Department of State as "countries of particular concern," a label reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.