By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)-- The head of Sudan's Anglican church confirmed Thursday, September 3, that armed groups are killing Christians and others in the south of this predominantly Islamic country "to disrupt a peace agreement" that ended 20 years of civil war.
"Everywhere, people are being killed" including at least one church leader, said Bishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak in remarks aired by Radio France International (RFI). "This is why we are appealing to the United Nations and governments in the world like the U.S. Germany and Norway. They should come in now, so that peace can be implemented like it was written."
Under the internationally brokered peace deal, a referendum was due to take place in the semi-autonomous region in 2011 which could see the south become a separate state, despite European Union pressure to keep the country united. The two sides are currently locked in negotiations to discuss sensitive issues such as the 2010 elections, the demarcation of the north and south border and peace efforts in the state of Darfur.
Analysts say rebel groups may try to expand their territory as a bargain chip ahead of further talks.
Aid and advocacy group Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife earlier that in recent days at least dozens of people, including Christians, are known to have been killed or injured in the latest violence in southern Sudan. "On Saturday, August 29, there was an attack in Jonglei State, where over 40 people, including women and children, were killed or injured, some very seriously with gunshot wounds and broken bones," said the group.
"Among the dead was a senior church leader who was shot as he led the morning service at his church in Wernyol," Barnabas Fund added. The bishop said the church leader, who was not identified apparently due to security concerns, "was killed by "someone to anger the community." There was no claim of responsibility.
The latest violence added to concerns among thousands of civilians who fled after new attacks by one of the most feared rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), in Sudan's border region with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), aid workers suggested.
The LRA has also been linked to attacks against Sudanese Christians.
United Nations workers said at least two people died and three others were injured last month when the LRA carried out a series of attacks in Ezo district where the group reportedly abducted ten girls from a local church, ransacked and torched homes and stole food. They also struck in Bereamburu village, burning a local church and health centre and raiding medical supplies, U.N. representatives said.
The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the "spokesperson" of God and a spirit medium. Rebels aim to overthrow neighboring Uganda's government and to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments of the Bible's Old Testament and local traditions, but have also stepped up their presence in Sudan.
Over the last two decades, the LRA has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including mutilation, torture, rape, the abduction of civilians, the use of child soldiers, and a number of massacres.
As the LRA and other groups continue their attacks, local authorities report that up to 5,000 internally displaced people have fled from Ezo and surrounding areas.
The U.N. said it estimates that hundreds of thousands of people have fled homes and villages in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of the LRA since mid-2008 causing “wide spread panic”. Several areas are without adequate food supplies and clean water and have no security, aid groups said.
Christians are increasingly in the crossfire, especially former Muslims, according to Christian rights activists. "There is still great pressure on Muslims who choose to follow Christ," said Open Doors, a group supporting Christians facing difficulties because of their faith.
"The international outcry over the abuse of human rights in [the state of] Darfur has fuelled negativity towards Christians, who are seen as allying themselves with America and other 'Christian' countries."
Christians comprise just about 18 percent of Sudan's mainly Muslim population of nearly 39 million people, according to Christian estimates. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).