Sudanese bishop warns war could return as secession vote nears


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Khartoum, Sudan, Oct 23, 2009 / 02:35 am (CNA).- A Sudanese bishop has warned that the country could return to war, with tensions apparently increasing. "Something is in the air," he said, noting reports that military groups are arming themselves in the run-up to the referendum on secession between the north and south.

"It needs just one single shot to explode and we will go back to the bush," Bishop Macram Gassis of El Obeid, Sudan told Aid to the Church in Need.

He noted reports that both the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army and the military in Khartoum are arming themselves.

"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," he commented.

Parts of the Nuba Mountains, which were previously evacuated by the Khartoum government, are currently occupied by the state military.

The bishop voiced concerns that the census to register the number of voters and to apportion power between the regions has not been conducted properly. He told ACN he has not seen the census being conducted.

Describing the popular local feeling for secession he said: "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 told ACN that people in the south claim that the Khartoum-based Government of National Unity is not giving them their fair share of the oil.

He predicted it "isn't going to be easy" if the south wants secession. "I don't know how our people will face another armed struggle -- it is always the elderly, women and children who suffer," he added.

The prelate recounted how he had lived through three aerial raids during the civil war:

"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.

"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."

Bishop Gassis described ACN as among the Church in Sudan's "biggest partners" and thanked the charity for its help. ACN has provided transportation for priests to visit remote villages, faith education in schools, and building convents and presbyteries.

He expressed Sudanese Catholics' "heartfelt gratitude" to ACN donors, adding, "We are walking together hand in hand to bring a message of peace, justice, and love."