A group of international aid agencies has warned of renewed conflict in southern Sudan if urgent international action is not taken to bolster a five-year-old peace agreement that ended a two-decade civil war - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
"A return to war is by no means inevitable, but it depends whether the world heeds the warning signs of the past year and has the political will to save the peace," Paul Valentin, international director of the British agency Christian Aid, said in Nairobi on 7 January 2010.
Valentin was launching the report, "Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan", drawn up by 10 agencies ahead of the 5th anniversary of signing of the peace agreement this weekend.
The report warns that a mixture of rising violence, chronic poverty and political tensions has left the pact on the brink of collapse.
On 9 January 2005, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end a 21 years civil war, which had pitted the mainly Christian and animist southern Sudan against the predominantly Muslim north.
More than 2 million people died in the conflict and more than 4 million were driven from their homes in one of the 20th century's longest running conflicts.
The peace agreement gave South Sudan a six-year period of administrative autonomy, after which a referendum is scheduled to be held to decide about secession.
In December 2009, the Rev Ramadan Chan Liol, the head of the Sudan Council of Churches, said the tensions were heightening because of failed implementation of crucial sections of the peace agreement. He named the demarcation of borders between the north and south as one example.
"Without clearly marked borders the regions will not know how they voted. Without the security law, the government will interfere with the elections. People are afraid," Chan told Ecumenical News International in Nairobi.
Sudanese Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement in December warning of increasing attacks on civilians and government installations. These were not isolated incidents, but coordinated campaigns by those opposed to peace, the bishops said.
Besides Christian Aid, the agencies launching the report included ICCO, the Dutch inter-church organisation for development cooperation, Oxfam International, Save the Children, Caritas France/Secours Catholique, Tear Fund and World Vision.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]