Rebel victory in Sudan sparks fear of crackdown on Christians

(Photo: Reuters / Andreea Campeanu)Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (L) and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir address a joint news conference in Juba South Sudan April 12, 2013. President al-Bashir said on Friday he wanted peace and normal relations with South Sudan in his first visit there since it split off from his country in 2011 after decades of civil war.

The defeat of the Sudanese army in a battle with rebel forces last week has prompted concern that the government will retaliate by increasing its already intense pressure on the country's minority Christians.

The rebel army is made up of groups, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), factions which Sudan's President Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said are Christian, World News Net Daily has reported.

William Stark, an Africa specialist for International Christian Concern (ICC), told WND that Bahir has attempted to paint the rebels as Christian troublemakers.

However, Stark said this portrayal of the rebels is not true.

"In Sudan, the SPLA-N situation is primarily a political conflict that has some religious elements," he said.

SRF consists of three rebel groups from Darfur, a region where there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths and close to three million people displaced due to fighting according to human rights organizations.

SPLA-N sided with rebels from the south during the civil war, which began in 1983 and ended in a peace agreement in 2005.

(Wikipedia)The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bahir, arrives in the southern capital of Juba in January 2011. Southern Sudan officially became independent in July of that year after years of civil war. However, Bahir's government has been fighting insurgents, whom he has labeled as "Christian troublemakers". The defeat of his army in battle recently has made observers concerned that Bahir will respond by increased persecution against Christians

The agreement resulted in the creation in 2011 of landlocked South Sudan, the world's newest nation that is made up mainly of black Africans who are either Christians or followers of tradional African religions.

Despite the flimsy connection with Christianity, Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dysktra said that the Sudanese government is calling for a war against those who do not believe in Islam, or a jihad and turning the teeth of its attacks on Christians, WND reported.

In a press release Dykstra said, "Since the Sudan Revolutionary Front's successful taking of Um Rawaba in North Kordofan, the government of Sudan has embarked on the mobilization of people and have called for support to jihad."

The government reportedly lost 400 soldiers in its unsuccessful attempt to retake Um Rawaba. In addition, 40,000 people have fled the fighting in central Sudan, Reuters news agency has reported.

Open Doors says the rebel victory comes as the pressure on Christians in Sudan has increased in recent months.

Churches have been closed and foreign workers accused of proselytizing expelled.

Most recently, an Islamic leader in Sudan has blasted the government for going soft on Christians, according to Mission Network News (MNN).

Ammar Saleh, the chairman of the Islamic Center for Preaching and Comparative Studies, called on the government to take action against what he called "Christianization", the Sudan Tribune newspaper reported.

Saleh claims that 109 people have converted from Islam to Christianity in Khartoum, and says that when compared to the efforts of Christian missionaries, the government's actions have been timid.

Dykstra told MNN that Saleh's remarks "come as no surprise".

"This is rhetoric we have been hearing quite a bit lately", he said. "It's just more of the same."

Dykstra noted that there is a "good news-bad news" factor to Saleh's comments. The bad news, he said, is that Saleh is calling for a crackdown on Christian missionaries.

The good news is that many people are coming to Christ, he said, although Dykstra noted that he does not know where Saleh got his statistics concerning those who had become Christians.

In any case, Dystra said, "It seems like the Church in Khartoum can expect renewed scrutiny and accompanying pressure."

Stark said that ever since South Sudan and Sudan officially split in July, 2011, the government has been seeking to become more Islamic.

"Shortly after the separation of the two countries, President Al-Bashir told his supporters that he would make sure that Sharia was an influential part of the new government," he said.

Bashir is the first sitting head of State to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. The ICC has issued a warrant for his arrest, charging him with genocide.

He is accused of directing a campaign to destroy ethnic groups in Darfur, an area the size of France inhabited mainly by black Africans rather than people of Arabic descent .

More recently, Bashir has been allegedly persecuting Christian Nubians living in the mountains of Sudan.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News