Human rights groups are voicing concern for the safety of the remaining Christians trapped in Sudan now that news and intelligence reports say embattled President Omar al-Bashir has declared war against the predominantly Christian South Sudan.
WND reported March 26 the government in the North was attempting to drive Christians south, through an ethnic cleansing campaign.
News reports also say that April 8 the Sudanese government gave Christians and ethnic South Sudanese 30 days to leave Sudan. However, government officials refused to allow ethnic South Sudanese to board the planes for Juba, claiming that the southerners needed documents from Juba to leave.
Heritage Foundation Africa analyst Morgan Roach says Christians unable to leave are in “national limbo,” and human rights groups are right to be concerned.
“Despite South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, the issue of citizenship and the status of South Sudanese living in Sudan, and vice versa, remains one of many unresolved issues. Many South Sudanese Christians living in Sudan returned to South Sudan to take part in the January 2011 referendum,” Roach said.
“However, there are still approximately 700,000 Christians in the North who are ethnically South Sudanese but have lived their entire lives there,” Roach said.
Talking about the possible state of war between the two countries, International Christian Concern’s Africa analyst Jonathan Racho agrees that human rights groups have reason to be concerned.
”We are concerned that the conflict could lead to further devastation,” Racho said.
“The South is one of the poorest nations. It is imperative that both parties resolve their differences peacefully. The international community must work towards bringing peace,” Racho said.
Roach added that a major contributing factor to the plight of the Christians is Bashir’s history of anti-Christian aggression.
“Considering the Bashir regime’s long history of religious intolerance, there is little to suggest that the persecution of Christians will end,” Roach said.
Roach also says that one of major issues to be resolved is citizenship for both countries’ ethnic nationals who happened to find themselves in the opposing country.
“Both governments in Sudan and South Sudan have repeatedly stated that statelessness for either country’s nationals is not an option. However, on April 9, the citizenship transitional period ended,” Roach said.
“During the nine-month period which began immediately after South Sudan’s independence, the government of South Sudan was supposed to have issued identity documents to its nationals in Sudan. These documents would have allowed South Sudanese nationals to legally live and work in Sudan,” Roach said.
Roach added that the present condition of “statelessness” for Sudan’s Christians is largely because of Bashir’s refusal to sign the status agreement.
“However, the necessary steps to regularize their status were not completed. As such, South Sudanese nationals are now de facto stateless and vulnerable to persecution. While a framework agreement on residency was penned by both Juba and Khartoum in March, Bashir refused to sign the official document,” Roach said.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this issue is going to be resolved any time soon. As violence escalates along the border, some believe that war is inevitable. If violence does not abate, both countries risk a humanitarian crisis,” Roach said.
“Civilians on both sides, Christian and Muslim, will suffer. Even those not living on the border area will feel the effects. For example, a Catholic church in Khartoum was burned to the ground just a few days ago.”
Yet it’s the border region that is feeling the effects of the military conflict. Responding to South Sudan capturing the disputed oil fields, Bashir stated that a state of war exists between the two nations. Bashir said that he wants to “liberate the citizens of South Sudan from the rule of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement,” the party that holds the majority in the new government.
Christian Solidarity International-USA President John Eibner said that even with the saber-rattling, Bashir knows that the South has the military edge.
“Far from overrunning the South, Bashir is on the defensive. Just about all of the serious fighting is taking place in the North, not the South. Helglig in Southern Kordofan has been occupied by the army of South Sudan, with Salva Kiir openly claiming that it belongs to South Sudan,” Eibner said.
“I understand they currently control a patch of territory that runs about 20 miles north of Heglig. What appeared to be border skirmishes just a few weeks ago now looks increasing like a protracted battle for control of Southern Kordofan’s oil installations,” Eibner said.
Racho said the international community is being shortsighted for only thinking about the oil fields.
“The international community, instead of just focusing on the situation in Heglig, must also resolve the situation in Abeyi. Also, there has to be a clear demarcation of border between the two countries,” Racho said.
Eibner pointed out that the South is able to hold its own.
“It is only because of Khartoum’s weakness that this is taking place. The driving forces behind the conflict are two conflicting, but non-Western, colonial ambitions,” Eibner said.
Eibner explained that the leaders in the North have always had their eyes set on controlling the entire region.
“Khartoum has had long striven to dominate the South. The ‘New Sudan’ ideology of John Garang, which still animates the SPLA, works for black African, non-Arab domination of the whole of Sudan, both North and South,” Eibner said.
“The CPA of 2005 only suspended the struggle between these two forces. It now appears as if the SPLA has the upper-hand. Control of the oil installations of Southern Kordofan would decisively trip the balance of power towards the South and place Juba in a commanding position,” Eibner said.
Eibner said the war could lead to another famine, but the North isn’t likely to overrun the South.
“It is too early to know how this current stage of the long-running conflict will play out. Khartoum will probably expand its bombing from the border areas to larger town, perhaps even Juba, and try to open a new front on the border and occupy some of South Sudan’s territory. But do not expect Bashir’s tanks to overrun the South and occupy Juba any time too soon,” Eibner said.