Reacting to some of the worst fighting between Sudan and South Sudan since the southern country achieved independence last July (2011), two international church bodies have expressed "grave concern" and called for an immediate ceasefire.
Referring to the oil-well town of Heglig in Sudan, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) said they have followed the developments that led to the occupation of the town by South Sudan's armed forces. The area produces half Sudan's oil output but both countries claim the territory.
It is not known how many have been killed during two weeks of fighting, but an Associated Press report on 17 April referred to "clusters of dead Sudanese soldiers" on the road to Heglig.
"The WCC and the AACC deplore loss of life caused by the escalation of the conflict. We call on both parties to resist from hardening of positions and instead agree to resolve any differences through talks as they did in the run up to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," said the groups in a joint statement. The 2005 peace agreement ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan and led the way to an independence referendum in South Sudan.
"We call for mutual respect of the territorial integrity of each other’s state," the church groups said, adding that they are advocating "for a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict, starting with immediate ceasefire."
The statement said the peace agreement should be used as a framework and model for resolving border issues and other outstanding issues. "In this regard we call upon the Government of Kenya, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union and international community to double their diplomatic efforts at helping Sudan and South Sudan to de-escalate the military campaigns and sit around the table to negotiate," the WCC and AACC said.
"Any full-blown war between Sudan and South Sudan will have security implications for the whole region and precipitate a humanitarian disaster. Therefore it must be avoided at all costs," they said.
The groups pledged support to the Sudanese churches and people, in order "to save lives and promote peace, healing and reconciliation in South Sudan and Sudan."
The statement was signed by WCC General Secretary the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit and AACC General Secretary the Rev André Karamaga. The WCC is based in Geneva and the AACC is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]