Sudanese churches step up peace efforts ahead of independence

May 16, 2011

Nairobi, Kenya,
May 16 (ENInews)--As independence for South Sudan approaches on 9 July, churches
there are coordinating efforts to bring lasting peace to a region exhausted by
a long civil war.

"The church has recommitted herself to re-engage in
mediating … for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts," the Rev. Ramadan
Chan, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, told ENInews on 16
May from Khartoum. The council represents Roman Catholic, Protestant and
Orthodox churches.

Despite a 2005 peace agreement, renegade militia
groups led by dissent military figures continue to fight with the South Sudan
army. The United Nations has reported that there are seven militia groups
operating in the region where the accord ended a 21-year civil war in which an
estimated two million people died and four million were displaced.

On 9
January 2011, the population of South Sudan voted for independence. The United
Nations now estimates 800 people have so far died there this year.

Chan said the council will send a delegation, including heads of
churches and church leaders, to conflict zones. The leaders will initiate
dialogue between the government and the militia groups so that conflicts can
be peacefully resolved, Chan said. "The mediating team of seven… is being set
up (this week)," he said. "They will begin (peace work) in Malakal, (the
capital town of Upper Nile State) because it is closer to where all the
conflicts are. It is in the middle between Unity and Jonglei States where the
other conflicts are being staged," Chan said.

At the end of the
council 18th General Assembly held in Juba from 9-11 May, church leaders urged
the armed groups to come to the negotiating table. "The way of peace is always
the best," said the group's statement, received by ENInews on 16 May, which
also urged the South Sudan government to protect the civilian
population.

Still, the council which unites churches in both north and
south Sudan, resolved to remain united, retain its name and headquarters in
Khartoum for a transitional period of two years after independence. "With the
prospects of two nations emerging from the old Sudan, we affirm our unity as
the Church of Jesus Christ, both in the North and in the South. Being one body
of Christ, we are one people and we are indivisible," leaders said.

The
council is also seeking guarantees for freedom of movement, freedom of
worship, freedom of expression, freedom of work and freedom of residence in
the two states after the independence.

At the same time, Roman Catholic
Bishop Caesar Mazzolari of the Rumbek Diocese has unveiled a ten-step guide
titled, "Ten Steps for Unity in South Sudan," to prepare the people for peace
and unity ahead of independence. The steps are to be applied for the ten weeks
from 1 May to 9 July and, Mazzolari said, are to help citizens understand what
being a good citizen and a faithful Christian entails in the new
nation.