A senior bishop in Sudan has warned that the country could be on the road back to war amid signs of increased tension in the run-up to the long-awaited referendum on cessation for the south.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Bishop Macram Gassis of El Obeid in the Nuba Mountains said, “It needs just one single shot to explode and we will go back to the bush [where many people lived rough during the country’s 21-year civil war].”
The bishop cited reports that both the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army and the military in Khartoum are arming themselves. Bishop Gassis commented, “To see arms being amassed, to see military preparations being made – is this an indication of a peaceful mind? It indicates that something is in the air.”
Parts of the Nuba Mountains, which were previously evacuated by the Khartoum government, are currently occupied by state military.
Bishop Gassis also raised concerns about the process leading up to the 2010 election and 2011 referendum, saying the census to register the number of voters and apportion power between the regions has not been conducted properly.
“How can you say we have a fair assessment when I haven’t seen the census being done? So if this hasn’t been carried out professionally and faithfully how are we going to carry out the referendum?” asked Bishop Gassis.
He described how the popular feeling was for secession: “In Nuba people say: ‘we don’t want anything to do with the north,’ but it’s going to be hard because the oil is going to play an important role.”
Bishop Gassis said people in the south claim that the Government of National Unity (Khartoum) is not giving them their fair share of the oil. He told ACN that it “isn’t going to be easy if the south want cessation.
The bishop is particularly concerned about the most vulnerable in society. He said, “I don’t know how our people will face another armed struggle; it is always the elderly, women and children who suffer.”
Describing how he had lived through three aerial raids himself during the civil war, the Bishop said, “It is terrible to be at the mercy of the planes flying above you – the only thing to do is lie down as flat as a pancake and hope that the bomb does not hit you – you’re completely helpless.”
The bishop continued, “We thank God for the fact that aerial bombing has stopped – but at the back of our minds is the question will 2011 bring a peaceful solution for the people of Sudan?”
“We are in the hands of God. We ask God to save us from breaking down and going back to the gun – the gun will not solve the problem. We do not know what the solution will be, but we keep on praying, we are in His hands, we are His children.”
Describing ACN as one of the Church in Sudan’s “biggest partners,” Bishop Gassis thanked the charity for all its help.
He thanked ACN in particular for providing transportation to help priests visit Christians in remote villages, provide faith education in schools, and building convents and presbyteries so priests and Sisters have “a decent place to live so they can do their ministry. We are very grateful.”
He concluded by saying, “Please convey to ACN’s benefactors our heartfelt gratitude. You are a very real part of our Church. We are walking together hand in hand to bring a message of peace, justice, and love.”