By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Southern Sudanese living in the north fear intimidation or even war if a referendum next year results in secession from the rest of the country and many are calling for international monitoring to protect their rights.
After a civil war which has raged on and off since 1955, southern Sudanese on January 9, 2011 will vote on whether to remain one country or change the map of Africa by becoming independent from the north.
A 2005 peace deal created a coalition national government ending the war between Khartoum’s Islamists and southerners following traditional beliefs or Christianity. But continued tensions and delays in implementating the pact have sowed mistrust among southerners and many say they will vote for secession.
While many of the millions of southerners who fled the war to the north say they want to go back if the referendum results in secession as many expect, there are some born and educated in the north who say they should have the right to stay.
“North Sudan cannot ignore me,” said Keji Roman, a southerner born and bred in the capital. “Khartoum is my city — I don’t think Khartoum can close its door in my face.”
But she said if there was a return to war as many fear, southerners would not be able to stay in the north.
“Khartoum would be a dangerous place for me to stay because this war will be vicious,” she said.
Many are afraid of a lack of post-secession planning for them by the coalition government formed after a 2005 peace deal and which has preferred to focus on unity.
Most analysts agree the likely vote will be for separation but no one has defined the citizenship of the potential new states or the fate of those living within their borders.
South Sudan, with little infrastructure and even less security outside urban centres, would struggle to cope with a sudden influx of millions of southern Sudanese.
“The government of south Sudan should already be making these arrangements, they should begin to expect large numbers of people going to the south,” said Father George Jangara of the Catholic Church in Khartoum.
He said much of the feared violence and chaos could be avoided if political leaders agreed on clear plans for all Sudanese and began an immediate media campaign so people had enough time to come to terms with either outcome.
“People are already worried … about their property and they worry about their lives,” he said.
“It’s high time our leaders think of sitting and talking about it — the time is now,” Jangara added.
Majok Giec from Lakes state moved to Khartoum when he was just 15 years old. He said he did not trust the government in the north to protect the rights of southerners who would remain there post secession.
“There must be internationals … here to make sure those who stay here have their human rights,” he said in fluent Arabic.
“This government has to recognize the rights of its people, no matter what their religion or ethnicity so that they feel welcome in the country,” said Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur from the Archdiocese of Khartoum.
One of the catalysts which fueled the second outbreak of the north-south civil war in 1983 was the imposition of Islamic sharia law in the entire country. The south mainly follows traditional religions or Christianity.
An estimated 2 million people died and 4 million were driven from their homes in fighting over oil, ethnicity and ideology.
“They must realize that religions, Christianity and Islam, can coexist together, not just tolerate each other,” Kur said.