A South Sudan soldier walks on the front line in Panakuach April 24. Recent aerial bombardments, ground-force skirmishes and especially the increasingly hostile rhetoric of the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan have religious leaders worried about the pos sibility of all-out war. CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

Religious leaders worry there could be war between Sudan, South Sudan

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • April 25, 2012

VATICAN CITY - Late April aerial bombardments, ground-force skirmishes and especially the increasingly hostile rhetoric of the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan had religious leaders worried about the possibility of all-out war.

The key problems are conflicting claims over oil revenues and the lack of a firm, internationally recognized border between Sudan and South Sudan, which became independent last July.

"The international community must help us to demarcate the border," Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, South Sudan's capital, told the Vatican's Fides news agency April 24.

"The situation in Juba is not quiet. The population is very concerned about what is happening on the border," the archbishop said.

While South Sudanese troops withdrew April 21 from the Heglig, a city at the center of a key oil-producing area on the disputed border, "the South Sudanese government has mobilized more troops to be sent to the border. There are movements of soldiers around Juba," Archbishop Lukudu Loro said.

The Sudanese military continued to bomb border towns in late April, sowing fear among the South Sudanese people, he said, and the situation is made worse by "the irresponsible speeches by President (Omar al) Bashir of Sudan."

Visiting his troops in Heglig after they regained control of the town, Bashir was quoted as saying, "We will not negotiate with the South's government because they don't understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition."

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said April 25 that Sudan effectively had declared war on his country.

Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based organization of Catholic charities around the world, said April 24 it "fears that a full-scale war is imminent between Sudan and South Sudan," which would have "dire humanitarian consequences for both."

Recent clashes over the disputed border and over how to divide oil revenues "have now brought the two countries to the brink," Caritas said.

The international community had promised to help the two countries resolve the issues under the peace agreement that ended decades of civil war and led to the independence of South Sudan.

Caritas said, "The international community has failed to act decisively to prevent an escalation toward war. They must follow through with their commitments to ensure all outstanding issues are resolved peacefully."

The U.N. Security Council April 24 called for an immediate end to fighting between Sudan and South Sudan, condemned the Sudanese military's bombardment of southern towns and urged the governments of both countries to return to the bargaining table.

Retired Bishop Paride Taban of Torit, South Sudan, said the conflict over oil and the fighting along the border were hampering the support that Sudan and South Sudan need from investors and international development funds.

He urged negotiation and compromise, saying "we are better off accepting a reasonable share" of oil revenues so the situation could be stabilized and the two countries could "avoid further conflicts and bloodshed."

Making his comments during an April visit to Norway, Bishop Taban said he did not believe the dispute would lead to all-out war.

"Neither Sudan nor South Sudan can afford a full-scale war, meaning that the ongoing conflict most likely will only continue in the border area and create instability, loss of lives and insecurity for the people in the region," he said. "They are living in fear and are already suffering heavily from the ongoing conflict."

The Anglican archbishop responsible for both Sudan and South Sudan issued a statement April 23 saying the citizens of both countries "want peace, have no grudges against each other, (and) are the losers when war breaks out."

But the leadership on both sides of the border "has escalated close to leading their respective armed forces to a full-blown war," said Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak, the Anglican primate of Sudan and bishop of Juba.

He told citizens of both countries, "Refuse to be incited to return to war by your respective leaderships," and he pleaded with the international community to uphold its commitments to broker a peaceful settlement between the two sides.

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