A senior Sudan church official says political parties in the country must agree on the sharing of oil wealth to minimise border tensions between the divided north and south of Africa's biggest country - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
The Rev Ramadan Chan Liol, General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, a grouping of Orthodox Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, said the south's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the north's governing National Congress Party must agree on how they will split the oil wealth, before a 2011 referendum on the possible secession of the south.
"The central government has depended on the oil from the south for its operations. It will be difficult for it to just let oil go" Chan told ENInews in Nairobi. "Our position as the church is for the parties concerned to agree on the share of oil revenue in the post-referendum period. This will minimise the tensions."
Sudan is gearing for the 9 January 2011 plebiscite, mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Through it, the partly animist and Christian south is expected to choose whether to remain part of the united Sudan, which is dominated by Arabs and Muslims.
Chan, however, says plans for the referendum are behind schedule with only seven months to go. A referendum law has been passed, but there is no body yet [to] conduct it.
The SPLM is accusing the NCP of attempting to delay the referendum and warns that there will be no negotiations. The party's General Secretary, Pagan Amum, cautions, "Any attempts to delay the referendum shall threaten the enduring peace."
Many in the international community are also urging the country to refocus on the vote, echoing the churches' concerns that preparations are running behind schedule.
"The referendum commission has to be appointed by the [Sudanese] national assembly. They have to be financed, and they have to be given the training." the US special envoy for Sudan, Scott Graton, was quoted by the Sudan Tribune newspaper as saying on 13 May. "There has to be better voter education. There has to be a better system of logistics and procedures, administration."
Graton said agreements on sharing oil revenues and on the border demarcation need urgent attention prior to the 2011 referendum.
In an interview in April, Chan had told ENInews that the majority of the south's people felt exploited. He said that injustices and an imbalance of resources had persisted for too long [a] time and that free political participation had never been granted.
"Since they have not succeeded [in] breaking through, an opportunity should be given for a separate south Sudan, where the people will be part of the system and part of their country," he said.
Religion and oil were blamed for the 21–year Sudanese civil war in which nearly two million people died. It ended five years ago with the signing of the CPA in Nairobi.
[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.]