By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM/JUBA (BosNewsLife)– Sudanese Christians have requested continued prayer amid an ongoing referendum on southern independence and reports that nearly two dozen people died in ethnic clashes near Sudan’s north-south border.
The call for prayer, seen by BosNewsLife Monday, January 10, came as officials announced that at least 23 people died in clashes with Arab nomads in the contested Abyei region. The violence overshadowed the second day of a week-long referendum on southern independence.
Missionaries and analysts cite Abyei as the most likely place for north-south tensions to erupt into violence during and after the vote, the climax of a troubled peace deal that ended decades of civil war in which some two million people died.
“A referendum to determine whether the province should retain its semi-autonomous status within the north or become part of the south has been postponed,” explained Christian mission group Middle East Concern (MEC), which closely monitors the area. “Sudanese Christians are concerned that instability in Abyei has the potential to provoke [new]North-South violence.”
MORE PRESSURE EXPECTED
The south, mainly black and Christian or animist, is set to split apart from the north, which is predominantly Arab and Muslim. With a vote for southern independence virtually certain, there is also concern that the remaining minority Christians in the north face more pressure, MEC told BosNewsLife.
Churches in northern Sudan are reportedly concerned about further restrictions on their freedom of worship. MEC cited reported plans by Sudan’s federal government to more strictly implement Islamic law, or Shari’a, should the south secede “potentially reducing the limited freedoms Christians, and other non-Muslims, enjoy” in northern Sudan.
Additionally, Sudanese Christians in the north “may lose some of their current residency rights,” MEC said, citing local Christians.
Despite the difficulties and heat, voters in Southern Sudan’s capital of Juba, many of them Christians, could be seen waiting for hours to cast ballots Monday, January 10. Voting began Sunday with jubilant celebrations in the regional capital Juba, where residents expressed hope that independence will lead to more peace and prosperity.