A veteran bishop from Sudan, who led his people through some of Africa’s most vicious fighting, has gone on record to say that he is confident that his country will not return to war.
In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Emeritus Bishop Paride Taban spoke out against concerns that increased instability following Sudan’s controversial general elections in April would inevitably lead to violence.
The bishop, hailed by many as a hero for his 20-year tenure in Torit which coincided with Sudan’s civil war, said people were determined to play their part in the all important forthcoming referendum.
The poll, expected in January 2011, could lead to the secession of South Sudan to form Africa’s newest country.
Bishop Taban said his hopes for peace were boosted by recent comments by Salva Kiir, president of semi-autonomous South Sudan, who appeared to rule out the possibility of a return to violence.
He said, “It was strange hearing the president of south Sudan saying [we must] never go to war.”
The bishop went on to say, “The people of South Sudan seem to be more mature than many people think.”
In a reference to the transition phase following the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan, Bishop Taban said, “Even during this short period, [the people] have had a lot of challenges, but widespread war has never taken place.”
His views differ sharply from those of other bishops in the south, such as Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio.
In an interview with ACN, which supports persecuted and other suffering Christians, the bishop warned that “the possibility of the entire nation descending into the abyss is a likely scenario.”
Bishop Hiiboro reported outbreaks of violence in his diocese amid widespread concerns about alleged vote-rigging, voter intimidation and other irregularities during the poll which was the first multi-party nationwide poll of its kind in 25 years.
Many feared a return to the violence that Sudan saw between 1983 and 2005 when nearly two million people died and five million were displaced during Africa’s longest-running conflict.
But for the time being, at least, large-scale conflict has been averted, with results pointing to a clear victory both for Mr. Kiir and the southern-based former rebels the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in the south as well as a confident win for incumbent national president Omar al Bashir in the capital Khartoum.
Bishop Taban recognized that much will depend on President Bashir respecting the outcome of the referendum if South Sudan votes for separation from the north.
He said, “If what president Bashir says about respecting the referendum result is true, then that is good – but we don’t know if what he says is true.”
Recognizing that the process is fraught with problems, Bishop Taban remains optimistic.
He said, “It will not be easy, but we have to learn to share the resources that we have – and that includes oil reserves.”
Arguing that the referendum should continue as planned, he said, “Let the people choose. Let nobody push them one way or another. Let us help the people to be happy.”
The bishop also called for the continued involvement of the international community to help Sudan through this transitional phase.
He said, “People in south Sudan may be people of good will, but they need a lot of support from the international community. They need to be strengthened, otherwise many will leave out of a fear of a return to war.”
The bishop thanked ACN for its help for the Church in Sudan.
He said, “ACN has been with us from the very beginning and has always been a sign of hope for us.”
Sudan is a priority country for ACN.
Last year the charity supported the Church in Sudan with over $1.7 million in aid to help with projects, including Save the Saveable schools in and around Khartoum, catechesis programs, training for priests, Sisters, seminarians and lay people, construction of churches, Mass stipends, vehicles for clergy in remote regions and ACN Child’s Bibles.