South-Sudan religious leaders call for independence


From AFP. JUBA, Sudan — Christian and Muslim leaders in south Sudan called on Tuesday for people to choose independence in a January referendum that could partition Africa's largest country.

The Sudanese Religious Leaders Referendum Initiative, a coalition including key Christian churches as well as Muslim members, said it encouraged the people of the south to choose separation in the vote.

"Our joint position is to lead the people to the independent south Sudan," Bishop Paul Yugusuk of the Episcopal Church said at a press conference to launch the group.

The coalition, which includes eight major churches including the Roman Catholic, several mainstream Protestant denominations and smaller independent churches, was formed to prepare for the referendum.

"We have seen that the way to unity is destructive, but that the way to secession is better for the people of southern Sudan," said Yugusuk.

"If we remain in a united Sudan, definitely we will remain as a second class citizen, when you like it or not," he added.

South Sudan is still recovering from a 22-year civil war with the north during which about two million people were killed, in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources like oil.

The referendum was set up under a 2005 peace deal, which promised the south the chance to choose independence or to remain within a united Sudan.

Popular support for independence on the streets of the southern capital Juba appears high.

However, the south?s former rebel turned ruling party -- the Sudan Peoples? Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- is bound by the terms of the 2005 peace deal not to campaign openly for secession. Instead, it must work to ensure that unity is attractive.

But the religious leaders said the choice was clear.

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