YAMBIO, Sudan, JAN. 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As the early results of a referendum on secession in Southern Sudan indicate that the region may soon become the 54th independent African state later this year, a bishop there is asking the international community to continue to pray for a “permanent peace” in Sudan
The official result of the vote, which closed Jan. 15, will not be released until Feb. 6 (or Feb. 14 if there are appeals), but early indications show that the majority favor separation of Southern Sudan from Sudan. If the referendum passes, then Southern Sudan will become the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, six years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Sudanese Civil War.
Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, in the southern region of Sudan, told Aid to the Church in Need that his people have strong “expectations of change for the better.”
He underlined the need for international prayer and support at this time, noting that “this is a historical time for us with noble and delicate decisions before us.”
Khartoum-based President Omar al Bashir of Sudan promised to accept the result of the referendum, the aid agency noted, but many are predicting difficulties in the months ahead.
Bishop Kussala expressed gratitude to the aid agency and similar organizations “because the external pressure — the prayers of the international community of the charity — have made a real impact on the government and made it clear to the authorities that war is not an option.”
“Nobody wants to be accused of starting a war,” he added.
The aid agency brought Bishop Kussala to the United Kingdom last fall to meet with organizations such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, showed his support by writing to British Foreign Secretary William Hague and appealing for international pressure to help the Sudan referendum remain peaceful.
Many international organizations, including the United Nations and an ecumenical team, have sent representatives to Sudan to monitor the referendum and ensure its integrity.
“Everybody here has high expectations as to what will happen next,” Bishop Kussala said. “But people must remain calm and the government has got to be disciplined.”
He appealed, “I want to ask your prayers for permanent peace in Sudan.”
Meanwhile, Aid to the Church in Need reported that many Christians are leaving the capital city of Khartoum and moving to the South, due to fears that “President Bashir’s regime is likely to shift radically towards Islamization.”
Bishop Kussala said that in his diocese and other parts of that region, preparations are under way to receive these new arrivals. He noted that his people are “willing to make sacrifices” in order to aid them.