A Crucial Time for Sudan

By Elizabeth Palmberg 10-12-2010

With only 88 days left until the independence referendum in southern Sudan -- unless it is delayed by Khartoum's foot-dragging tactics -- the eyes of the world should be watching Sudan to help prevent a disastrous re-emergence of the pre-2005 north-south civil war. As Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of southern Sudan, preaching in New York on an awareness-raising tour last Sunday, points out, now is a crucial time for southern Sudanese, including war refugees who fled to the north:

In his sermon, the archbishop acknowledged the north's Khartoum-based government's failures and expressed concern for the safety of some 4 million refugees from the south who are currently living in the north.

"Their security is not stable," Deng said.

As evidence of the violence he fears is to come, Deng pointed to an incident on October 9 in which demonstrators, including some police officers, at a pro-unity rally in Khartoum turned on and beat southerners who are in favor of separation.

"This is a clear indication that the situation is going to be out of hand," Deng said.

He warned that if war erupts in Sudan it will affect all of East Africa.

In the meantime, the world must also keep its eye on the ball in pressuring Khartoum to make real peace in its western region of Darfur -- and in the additional, separate conflict that, in a sign that the national government is universally despised, has emerged in the nation's eastern region. The New York Times reports:

In the restive eastern part of Sudan, they said, militia groups may also react violently after the vote by trying to topple the Sudanese government, which could provoke it to carry out atrocities against civilians, as it did in the Darfur region.

Keeping track of it all is simplified by the fact that, although Khartoum has got itself into three conflicts, it has used much the same playbook for each: ethnically targeted militia atrocities. The peace process in the south, including the referendum, can show a positive path forward for everyone.


Elizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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