Churches operating in the southern Sudan plan to initiate and promote ecumenical peace centres to propagate peace and justice issues among local Christians.
This was one of the resolutions reached during the recent executive committee meeting of the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), held here from November 7-12.
Disclosing this to APS, a member of the NSCC executive committee, Anglican Bishop Manasseh Dawidi said, "It was strongly felt that the move would contribute greatly in the area of educating the local people on issues pertaining to peace and justice among the southerners".
The move would take the Church closer to the grassroot people, especially in the area of peace and justice, which is crucial for lasting people in the war torn East African country, he further said. According to the Sudanese clergy, the move is part of a greater intention by NSCC to move its entire pastoral operations closer if not closest to the intended local Christians.
This is part of the greater move of this church body to shift its pastoral operations among southern Sudanese, currently being run from Nairobi, Kenya.
The NSCC meeting coincided with the October 31 to November 11 regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace talks on Sudan. The latter failed to resolve the long-standing conflict between the Khartoum government and the Southern rebels, postponing the talks to April 1998.
Asked to comment on the current situation in Sudan, taking into account both the IGAD and NSCC meetings, the Sudanese clergymen noted; "Currently there are a lot of voices coming from different corners, but all somehow heading to one direction - seeking a lasting peaceful situation in the Sudan. It is my prayer and that of the fellow Sudanese church leaders and churches in general that God will continue to guide us in this struggle." And in a statement, put out by the Information Office of the NSCC, Nairobi, leaders of the Sudanese churches and NSCC partners appealed to their country's warring parties to continue with dialogue under the auspices of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development in order to facilitate the conclusion of a comprehensive and just peace process in the country. Said the statement issued in Nairobi on November 18, "We denounce hatred, hostilities and violence that pits leaders against leaders, people against people, communities against communities, brothers and sisters against brothers and sisters.
"We deplore the practices and methods of war and fighting that are taking the lives of Sudanese, especially innocent people, including women and children".
The statement, issued after a three-day round table conference held in Nairobi, the Sudanese spiritual leaders and NSCC partners expressed concern over the collapse of IGAD peace talks and urged Sudan political leaders to abstain from hatred and violence in order to find a just lasting solution to the conflict.
According to the church statement, the IGAD 1994 Declaration of Principle (DOP) has served has the basic framework of the negotiations. Like the four previous peace talks, the just ended peace talks deadlocked over the issue of "confederation". The period between now and next April also gives the NSCC and its member churches an opportunity to put pressure on the two sides before they return to the peace talks, the clergy said. And the NSCC and its partners, according to the church statement, have offered themselves and their services to encourage and facilitate negotiations, and asked the Sudanese leaders to remain committed to the IGAD Declaration of Principles (DOP). Meanwhile Sudanese Anglican clergyman, Manasseh Dawidi of the Kajo Keji Diocese has blamed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for failing to avail adequate security to the Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda.
The Sudanese clergymen in a statement to the NSCC Information Office claimed some UNHCR officials were only interested in enriching themselves without any human feeling for the sorry state of the refugees. Bishop Dawidi suggested to the UNHCR to relocate Sudanese refugees from the insecure areas to save lives following recent attacks on six refugee camps in northern Uganda.
Scores of people were killed and several others seriously injured last month, when rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked the camps of Kali, Aliwara, Belameling, Palorinya, Muglalla and Maaji in Moyo district in West Nile.
And early this month, Bishop Dawidi added, the rebels returned and attacked Aliwara Refugee camp, killing six people and injuring scores. Those injured, some with severed limbs, are in Oliji Transit Camp Dispensary, he added.
He also complained of insecurity problems in Palorinya, Kali, Itula and Belameling, citing cases of robberies in September. During this incident, two refugees were killed and two were admitted in Moyo Hospital, he added. But approached for a comment over the UNHCR blame, the organisation's regional Information Officer in Nairobi, Mr Peter Kessler, said it was wrong for the Sudanese clergymen to put the entire blame on the UNHCR over the issue.
"It is an open secret that the area in mention, where some of the Sudanese refugees are being settled is facing insecurity problems and not only for the refugees (Sudanese) but also the local Ugandans," he said. According to him, the UNHCR was doing everything possible to bring down the problem and so was the Uganda Government. "It is good we all get down to serious business in finding a lasting solution rather than engaging in blames and counter blames issues," he told APS in a telephone interview.