By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM/JUBA (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Islamist-run Sudan have ushered in the New Year amid ongoing airstrikes by Sudanese government forces that killed at least 11 believers before and after Christmas, while two priests remained detained for converting a Muslim.
The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) said four people, including two children, were killed when the Sudanese military dropped nine bombs in and around the Christian village of Adar, also spelled as Al Dar, in the war-torn Nuba Mountains on December 26.
Among the victims were at least two Christian women - identified as 70-year-old Kuku Tia and 45-year-old Aisha Tutu Tolodi, and children Rehab Adam Alful, 8, and her sister Najah Adam Alful, 4, local Christians and security sources said.
News website Nuba Reports, run by Christian aid worker Ryan Boyette, said Sudanese Russian-made Antonov aircraft also dropped 12 bombs on Kauda town, wounding pastor Ayube Ibrahim and killing three cows.
Kauda is the home to four different churches that all celebrated Christmas for three days starting December 25, Christians said. The bombings came just days after another attack on December 23 killed Shawli Jalbora, 45, when a bomb hit his house in the region, according to the SPLM-N.
CHRISTIAN FAMILY TARGETED
Earlier, on December 18, five people of a Christian family were reportedly killed when a Russian-made Antonov airplane bombed Eire village.
Those killed were identified as Fatuma Naway, 45, and 4-year-old girl Intazar Mubarak Sabil, 4-year-old boy Ramadan Mubarak, 6-year-old Nadia Ibrahim and 9-month-old infant Gamu Ibrahim.
Another family member, Regina Ibrahim, was reportedly injured in the airstrike.
It came after Christians were also shocked by a reported attack on December 6 when a 40-year-old woman, Habiba Tia, was reportedly killed when one of a dozen bombs landed on her home in the Fama and Shat-Safia area of the Nuba Mountains.
At least two other civilians and an 11-year old child were injured in the December 6 airstrikes in the area, said Nuba Reports.
MORE CHRISTIANS KILLED
Several Christians were also killed in November when armed forces of the Islamic government of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir attacked at least 26 villages in the Nuba Mountains, according to well-informed Christian activists.
Satellite images showed burned out huts in South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located.
The government of Sudan has denied wrongdoing, saying it is fighting a rebellion led by the SPLM-N that engineered the secession of South Sudan.
However rights activists point out that the military campaign is part of efforts by President Omar al-Bashir to impose more strict Islamic rule in a nation where Christian conversions are not recognized and believers from a Muslim background are treated as Muslims.
"Following South Sudan's secession from the north in July 2011, the president asserted that Sudan's constitution would be based on Sharia (Islamic law). Many believers have since left the country [and] Christians are caught up in the attacks in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains," said Open Doors, a Christian advocacy and aid group.
News of the latest violence came as two priests from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sudan remained behind bars after the religious conversion of a Muslim in the Islamist state. “I understand there was someone from the Arab origin that accepted Christ and was baptized by them,” leading to their detention last month, one religious leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A little-known group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Nilien States recently sent a statement to Sudanese journalists threatening violence against Copts unless the woman who converted and was “kidnapped” by the Christians is returned, French news agency AFP reported.
Amid the violence, Christians of the neighboring new-born South Sudan were urged this Christmas to pray for their leadership on Christmas Day.
The appeal came as over 10,000 Christians assembled at the Presbyterian Church of the Nuer speaking congregation in the capital Juba celebrated the birth of Jesus, local media reported.
In November, nearly 100,000 South Sudanese reportedly braved sweltering heat to hear American evangelist Franklin Graham deliver the Gospel message of faith in Jesus Christ.
"THOUSANDS ACCEPT CHRIST"
Some 6,000 attendees accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior at Graham's two-night "Hope for the New Nation" event, organizers said
Graham's aid group, Samaritan's Purse, has worked in South Sudan for more than 20 years, providing relief and other assistance from decades of war and famine. They claim to have helped rebuild over 500 churches destroyed during war with the North, now known as Sudan.
In a recent interview he said it was time for an internationally backed no-fly zone over the skies of Sudan to halt ethnic cleansing.
"The North is creating instability by sending tens of thousands of refugees into the South," he told the U.S.-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). "These are Muslims and Christians who don't want to live under Shariah law."
He said U.S. President Barack Obama has an "excellent opportunity" to bring the two sides together. "The two can not survive without each other, the oil is now in the South," Graham noted.
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