Khartoum Threatens Southern Sudanese Churches
Juba's Christian Leaders Refuse to Endorse Government's Peace Stance

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, September 4 (Compass) -- Sudan's Khartoum regime presented a
threatening memorandum in early August to Christian leaders in Juba after the
southern Sudanese church leaders refused to back the government's position on
peace negotiations now underway in Kenya.

The standoff began when Dr. Mahjub El Khalifa, the minister of agriculture and
forestry, arrived in the southern city of Juba at the head of a Sudanese
government delegation for "peace enlightenment."

When the delegation met with local church leaders at the Catholic Archdiocese
premises on August 5, they were presented with a three-page letter from the
Catholic vicar general of Juba, listing his church's "points of concern"
regarding the Christian view on the "true culture of peace."

In a copy of the letter obtained by Compass, the Catholic leader noted the
"planned program of brutal Arabization, Islamization, oppression and
persecution to the point of extermination" carried out since 1990 which had
"left unforgettable scars on the life of Southerners by Northerners."

Stating that it was difficult to address the issue of peace without
reconciliation, the letter concluded, "Unless our brothers in the North
recognize their sins against the South and its people, repent, confess and
repair them, no Southerner will be fully convinced and therefore be ready for
peace."

Two days later, the Bahr el Jebel state's Council of Ministers held an
emergency meeting with church leadership, issuing a memo the same day
criticizing the "negative attitude expressed by church members" who met with
their delegation. The memo was signed the following week by Governor Lt. Gen.
James Loro Oirisio.

In terse demands, the Council of Ministers ordered Juba's church leaders to
tackle religious issues without involving themselves in "political or security
issues," embrace "tolerance towards all religions," and abstain from inciting
public opinion against the government and its officials.

In a written response dated August 28, Juba's church leaders labeled the
resolution "an official threat and intimidation to our mission."

"It is rather very sad and incredible that the state government issues such a
threat against the lives of the church leaders just at the time when peace
talks between the Sudan government and the (rebel Sudan People's Liberation
Army/Movement) SPLA/M are taking place in Namyuki, Kenya," the document read.
"Why be threatened at a time when all of us are longing and praying for peace?"

The seven-page response was signed by a Sudan Council of Churches (SCC)
administrator and local representatives of the Catholic, Episcopal,
Pentecostal, Africa Inland and Presbyterian churches.

Boldly matching the government ultimatum, the churches listed seven
"resolutions" upon which they had agreed. Included was the decision to refuse
permission for any political or government official to address their
congregations or to meet with church leaders except through the auspices of the
SCC.

In a final point, the churches warned against attempts to take any of their
clergy, religious workers or church members off church premises for
interrogation without a written warrant. "If this happens, we shall term it
intimidation and aggression, and we shall be forced by such situations to ring
church bells all over the state to alert the whole population about the
incident," the leaders said.

From its side, the SCC demanded that the government delegation apologize in
writing for its "misconduct" during the meeting on August 5, and also make an
official correction of a report aired on Radio Juba August 8 claiming that the
Catholic Church had apologized for the vicar general's letter.

"There is not yet a reaction from the government," a church source in Khartoum
told Compass today, "so we don't know how they are going to respond to the
church's reply."

"The situation between the politicians and the church leaders here is not all
that good," one church spokesman in Juba noted. "So this really needs a lot of
prayer."

Nevertheless, the stance of the SCC leaders in Juba is reportedly "very
 strong," the Khartoum source said. "They are not worried, they are doing their
work, and they feel that whatever the consequences are, they are ready."

The Khartoum government and the SPLA/M have been involved in peace negotiations
for the past two years. Although their historic Machakos Protocol was signed in
July 2002, the two sides have failed during seven subsequent rounds of talks to
agree on the thorny details, despite stepped-up involvement by the United
States and other international backers.

During a July 1 rally in Juba, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had declared
that the conflict between the Muslim North and predominantly Christian South
was nearing an end, stating his support for the "final touches" on an agreement
to be reached in talks beginning July 6. The final peace pact was to have been
ready for signing by mid August.

But three weeks later, the Sudanese delegation rejected the mediators' latest
document, declaring it "threatened the unity" of Sudan. The Machakos agreement
had specified a six-year period of autonomy for the South, followed by a
referendum on the region's political future.

Now adjourned until September 10, the peace talks hosted in Kenya are being
sponsored by the East African Intergovernmental Authority of Development
(IGAD).

Sudan's bitter civil war has killed about two million and displaced another
four million citizens over the past 20 years. The conflict centers around
issues of religious freedom, oil, ideology and the right of southerners to
attain self-rule.

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