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South Sudan in Peace Retreat as Sudan’s Al-Bashir falls

East Africa

South Sudan in Peace Retreat as Sudan’s Al-Bashir falls

Report by Hassan John

South Sudanese warring political leaders are meeting with Pope Francis in what, many South Sudanese hope, will be a soul-searching discussion to end the protracted conflict in the world’s youngest nation which has killed about 400,000 people.

Omar Al-Bashir, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in a dance at signing of peace agreement. Photo – REUTERS

The meeting, which is in its second day, at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta, is expected to consolidate and affirm a peace deal between President Salva Kiir and the opposition leader Riek Machar. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State said the retreat is “dedicated to reflection and prayer.”

While the retreat is going on at the Vatican, the neighbouring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been toppled in what observers call ‘a military coup’ after several weeks of protest by Sudanese over plans to raise the cost of bread and fuel.
Sudan, with a predominantly Muslim population, had in the past, held on to political power, discriminated against and marginalized South Sudan, a predominantly Christian region forcing the southern region to fight for its independence.

Pope Benedict and South Sudan catholics –
photo credit: Solidarity Sudan

Sudan’s history of persecuting Christians, its racism against black people and its ‘Arabising’ and ‘Islamising’ policies still persists. The Sudanese Islamic government has continued its attacks on Christian towns and villages in Darfur and South Kordofan which have predominantly Christian population. Churches are still being targeted and in the Nuba mountains and communities have suffered devastating attacks by the Sudanese military in the Blue Nile region. The ousted President al-Bashir had declared that Sudan would be an Islamic nation, “Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”

Reports of genocide, slavery, sexual exploitation of women and child labor of Christians in in Darfur in the Islamization policy have emerged from the region. Worshippers in African traditional religions have also been targeted and persecuted.

The arrest of Pastors in Sudan on trumped up charges and the destruction of Churches has drawn international attention and criticism but no action has been taken to ease the persecution on Christians in Sudan. Efforts to arrest Al Bashir to get him to face trial for genocide in the International Criminal Court was frustrated by some African leaders.

What the fall of Al-Bashir would mean to the persecuted Christian in Sudan can only be speculated. Observers in both Sudan and South Sudan hope that, even though the ousting of Al-Bashir is a palace coup and may not mean there will be liberty for Christians, many still hope that the wind of change might bring some relief for Christians.