U.N. stands back as southern Sudan fights for its freedom

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A nation that has been at war for more than 50 years may finally see an end to its conflict.

That was what many believed when southern Sudanese voters agreed almost unanimously Jan. 9 to secede. The north’s National Congress Party (NCP) immediately accepted the referendum when results came in Feb. 7.

The new nation, the Republic of South Sudan, will come into existence July 9.

Southern President Salva Kiir counseled his people to avoid pre-emptive celebration of the secession, demonstrating considerable wisdom in his caution, for it would be almost six months before his people would experience      independence.

And South Sudan is finding that freedom from the rest of Sudan comes at a great cost.

The Sudanese people have been separated for some time, with basically one government in the north and one in the south, with conflict between the two peoples having begun even before Great Britain granted them complete autonomy in 1956.

Generally, the northern Sudanese people hold strongly to Islamic beliefs, while the southern people have a mixture of Christian and animistic beliefs. This difference in belief is one of the driving factors in the south’s decision to secede.

Another is the northern government’s practice of eradicating entire people groups of different belief systems or tribes, both directly and indirectly. The Darfur incident is a prime example, and the north’s reign of terror may not be over.

Only two months have passed since the voters decided to secede peacefully. Within a month, the ceasefire between the two nations crumbled, caused by uprisings of militant groups in South Sudan.

The causes for the uprisings vary. Many are led by new rebels or northern-aligned commanders. George Athor, a former deputy chief of staff of the southern army, appears to be the main perpetrator of insurgency, having rebelled last year after losing a gubernatorial election.

Still other conflicts seem to be motivated by local grievances, such as land disputes between neighboring tribes.

Whatever the reasons, the “peaceful” secession has turned to bloody revolution. The south broke off talks with the north March 13, accusing them of conspiring to overthrow the south and of arming southern militias. Now, the NCP’s immediate “acceptance” of the secession referendum has become             questionable.

Officially, the northern government is willing to allow the south to secede. Unofficially, it seems that the northern government has no plans to allow their southern counterpart to secede without difficulty, further prolonging a 50-year conflict that was on the verge of resolution.

Although the north Sudan’s President Omar el-Bashir has been charged with crimes against humanity relating to the Darfur incident, his administration has continued to terrorize the Sudanese people, and will continue to do so until considerable action is taken by an outside force.

The U.N. and much of the world seem to have taken a “wait-and-see” stance on the issue. But one thing is clear: innocent people are being killed, and the world is just standing by and watching. Unfortunately for the Sudanese people, the world is too preoccupied with other matters.

July 9 should mark a celebration and an end to such a long conflict. Instead, it will be just another date in a half century of fighting.

Author: Stephen Webster

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