For years in Sudan ecumenism meant nothing. A year on from the first signs of conflict and from the bombing of the villages of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, Anglican and Catholic bishops have decided to prompt once more the dialogue between the “estranged brothers” for peace.
The two Churches ask the International community “to assume a more balanced position” in regards to the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan.
The statement published at the end of a meeting in Yei reads, “We believe that it is important for our friends in the International Community to take a more balanced position “Balanced” does not mean criticising both sides equally, but rather taking a broad and long-term view after in-depth study, and trying to apply pressure where it is needed to bring a just and lasting peace”.
In the document ,which arrived at the press agency Fides, the process which brought about the independence of South Sudan with the help of the International community is outlined in a summary account.
The attitude of the UN and of the greater powers towards the recent tension between Juba and Khartoum on the control of the boundary areas, rich in crude oil, of Heglig (called Panthou by the South Sudanese) and Abye has disappointed the local population. The bishops have written “We live in direct contact with the South Sudan community and what we hear from them is worrying us.”
“It looks as if the people of South Sudan are losing confidence in the International community. We have seen public demonstrations against the United Nations and its Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. We are beginning to ask ourselves, at the same time, if the International community still understands the yearnings of the people of South Sudan in the same way as the marginalized communities of Sudan”.
After the occupation of Heglig by the South Sudanese troops, the UN put strong pressure on Juba to retreat. However, after the retreat of the South Sudanese soldiers the Khartoum Air Force continued to strike various parts of the South Sudanese border territory.
The bishops stated they “have a dream of two democratic and free nations, where all religions, all ethnic groups, all cultures and languages enjoy the same rights based on citizenship. We dream of two nations in peace with each other and in cooperation in order to make the best use of their God given resources. We dream of a people no longer traumatized, of children that can go to school, mothers who can be treated in hospital, the end of malnutrition and poverty and Christians and Muslims who can go to Church and Mosque without fear. Enough is enough. There must be no more war between Sudan and South Sudan!”
China’s representative, Zhong Jianhua, visited first Khartoum and then the South-Sudanese capital Juba in order to negotiate the cease-fire between Sudan and South Sudan. China supported a resolution that was unanimously approved on the 2nd of May by the United Nations Security Council to solicit for an end to the weeks of conflicts on the border between the two countries, conflicts that have led people to fear the beginning of a war.
The resolution, beside highlighting the episodes of violence that occurred on the border between the two countries, also explicitly mentions Heglig’s occupation and the Sudanese air raids which forced half a million people to evacuate and caused hundreds of victims.
The actions of both the regular army and armed guerrilla groups guilty of using violence against civilians were deplored for being in violation of international human rights and of international humanitarian law.
The resolution also expressed the great worry of the International community for the humanitarian situation created by the conflicts and by the constant bombings of the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Its content was first put forward by the US and then changed because of objections by China and Russia. It states that Sudan and South Sudan must cease-fire and put a stop to air raids within 48 hours from the approval of the resolution. Khartoum had abandoned negotiations after the troops from South Sudan had invaded the oil-rich Heglig region on the 10th of April and occupied it for ten days.
This episode exacerbated the tensions between the two countries which split apart as a result of civil war that lasted from 1993 to 2005 and caused two millions deaths.
Oil-money makes up 80% of South Sudan’s economy and pays for 98% of government expenses. The officials of the World Bank Group recently visited to inspect the country and were astounded by the obvious inability of the government to understand the consequences of the decision to stop oil exports.
The decision, made because the Juba government accused Karthum of trying to charge too much for use of the northern pipeline, seems to have been made somewhat flippantly and was followed by the announcement of the construction of at least two alternative pipelines through other neighbouring countries without any prior feasibility studies and without anything but a broad agreement from the other interested governments.
According to World Bank’s estimates the number of people below the poverty-line in South Sudan will grow from 51% to 83% by next year and infant mortality will rise from 10 to 20%. Basically this is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa, Marcelo Giugale, explained to the government of Sudan and to the donor countries that the situation is tragic and that the state coffers will probably be empty by July, in the best case scenario by October if the government was to tighten the austerity measures already in place.
Basically South Sudan, which has been independent for only a year, is already ‘committing suicide’.
The Catholic and Anglican bishops have joined forces to ward off the imminent catastrophe.