Outbreaks of violence in key regions of South Sudan will not block the path to independence, according to a Catholic leader who has called on the government to address the “root causes” of the conflict.
Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Khartoum highlighted the “large amounts of violent incidents” in South Sudan, which is preparing to secede from the north of the country and become a separate nation.
But with less than three months to go before independence is officially declared, reports have come in of heavy clashes between rebel factions and the army of South Sudan.
Hundreds are understood to have died in recent weeks in violent outbreaks in states including Bar el Ghazal, Unity and Upper Nile.
In Malakal, where Bishop Adwok was parish priest in the 1990s before becoming bishop, at least 40 people died in a rebel raid.
Speaking with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Adwok said that, although many of the conflicts were intense, most were localized and did not threaten the path to independence.
Bishop Adwok, who gave an interview during a visit to ACN’s international headquarters in Germany, said, “These violent incidents will impede progress but it will not wash away from them their wish to acquire independence.”
“The wish to be independent from the north is not somehow grafted onto them – it is in their heart that they want to be independent.”
Bishop Adwok went on to call on the Government of South Sudan to resolve the underlying problems causing the violence, some of which are reportedly linked to interference from the Islamic north which is allegedly arming rebel factions.
The bishop said, “It would be best to sit down and discuss the issues. We have to ask the people: ‘What is the root of the tension.’”
“If we do not address that, after some months or years it will cause the disturbance to widen.”
Bishop Adwok made his comments on the eve of an extraordinary plenary meeting of the Bishops’ Conference of Sudan led by Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum being held in Juba, the provincial capital of the South.
Bishop Adwok said that at the close of their meeting the bishops were expected to meet “prominent government officials” and discuss their concerns about building a lasting peace in the region.
The Catholic Church has considerable influence in South Sudan, where it played a vital humanitarian role during the 1983-2005 civil war. Some regions are up to 75 percent Catholic.
The bishop went on to underline the need for help as the South copes with a massive influx of people pouring in from the north.
According to reports, the International Organization for Migration estimates that in the year to August 2011 up to 750,000 people will have arrived in the South.
With education remaining a top priority for the Church across Sudan, Bishop Adwok called on charities such as ACN to help with Catholic schools.
Bishop Adwok said, “The Church has always recognized that human formation and education is at the heart of forming a healthy society and developing schools with a clear Christian identity is very important in the south as well as the north.”
Aid to the Church in Need has given long-running support to the Save the Saveable Schools program for displaced communities, especially in the Khartoum area.
Although the Save the Saveable program in Khartoum is responding to a decline in numbers as families leave the region, Bishop Adwok said that the initiative remained very important for the Church in the region.
He highlighted that, amid extensive reports of political uncertainty in the south, many families were remaining in the north and were encouraged by early indications that the Khartoum regime is as yet not pursuing Islamist, anti-Christian policies.
Bishop Adwok praised ACN for its commitment to Save the Saveable and other Catholic programs across Sudan saying, “There are few charities that will help with the Church and religious formation — we know we can rely on ACN.”