International support needed for South Sudan as violence increases
As South Sudan prepares to become the world’s newest country on July 9, Act for Peace and other humanitarian organisations are deeply concerned about heavy fighting in the disputed border areas between North and South Sudan, including Abyei and South Kordofan.
Between January and mid-May 2011, over 117,000 people were displaced and almost 1,400 killed in South Sudan alone, more deaths than in all of 2010.
“The people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence, and they have much to celebrate on July 9,” said Alistair Gee, Executive Director of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
“It is a tragedy that this joy is being marred by violence and atrocities and the very real fear of a return to civil war.”
Across the whole of South Sudan, there are massive challenges to long-term development, stability and security, including deeply rooted poverty, high rates of illiteracy and a lack of physical infrastructure. For the people of South Sudan, including the worldwide South Sudanese diaspora, independence has been hard won following decades of war.
Currently, there are around 27,000 South Sudanese people living in Australia, of which more than 9,000 voted in the January referendum.
One of the voters was David Nyuol Vincent, a community development worker in Melbourne, who was born in Warrap state in South Sudan and arrived in Australia as a refugee in August 2004.
Mr Vincent’s journey to safety in Australia included 16 years living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. On arrival in Australia, he participated in Act for Peace’s Healing Trail program, which links refugees to church communities for support and community-building activities.
“Independence means that I can finally put my past to rest. Many of my friends were killed fighting for independence for South Sudan — this new freedom will mean their death has a meaning,” Mr Vincent said.
Mr Vincent has recently returned from six months in South Sudan, where he worked on reconciliation, peace building and development projects. In Australia, he is running peace and conflict training for young Sudanese people. “The independence of South Sudan should have meant that my family back home are safe now.”
Act for Peace’s project partner, the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), played a vital role in the lead-up to the January 2011 referendum on self-determination, conducting peace assessments and delivering training and civic education to ensure voting was peaceful and fair.
The SCC’s General Secretary, the Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, said that the organisation plans to engage local communities, politicians and the government in consultations in order to bring lasting peace in the troubled border regions between northern and southern Sudan.
“The SCC is renewing its efforts and commitment to mediate between warring groups,” he said.
“With less than a week until South Sudan’s independence, the international community must reaffirm its commitment to support the people of both North and South Sudan,” said Alistair Gee. “For the Australian Government, this means working with the African Union and the international community to support humanitarian efforts, protect civilians and develop sustainable peacekeeping plans.”