‘In South Sudan the state is for everyone, religion for individuals’
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In an interview with France24.com, a top official of the government of South Sudan insisted that an independent South would protect citizens of all faiths, as it has done since gaining autonomy in 2005.
On January 9th, the semi-autonomous government of South Sudan is expected to hold a long-awaited referendum that could break apart Africa’s largest country. Khartoum’s efforts to stall the poll and its insistence that Sudanese unity is non-negotiable have prompted international alarm over the prospect of another civil war.
An estimated two million people died before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended more than two decades of war between the Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the predominantly Christian and Animist south.
Ambassador Emmanuel LoWilla was the former deputy head of mission for the government of South Sudan (GoSS) in France. He is currently serving as a top advisor to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir. France24.com asked him what to expect from his government in the run-up to the referendum and in its aftermath.
France 24: The government in Khartoum claims the south is deploying its soldiers along the border. Can you confirm or deny these allegations?
Ambassador Emmanuel LoWilla: The SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) has already responded that no troops have been sent to the border. If there are troops present at the border it is because they have been there since the [CPA] was signed. There are no new troops. We have reported that the troops in the north are moving toward the border, and that’s why our president appealed to the United Nations to provide troops along the border. If we were moving the troops we would not ask the UN to come and monitor. It is the north that is moving troops to the border, and that is why we are asking the UN to come and observe.
F24: If the January 9 referendum takes place, most Sudan observers agree the south will vote for separation. Is there anything the government of the north can do to change public opinion in the south?
E.L.: I don’t think I can answer for the people in the government of the north at the moment. I would concur with most of the analysts about the outcome of the January 9 referendum. This is because of the total injustice that has been going on and the mistrust between the north and the south. I think that the people of South Sudan reached their conclusion a long time ago. If [the north] has not been able to make unity attractive in the past six years, what can they do in three months to sway the people?
F24: What assurances can president Kiir provide to Muslims and northerners living in the south about their safety after the referendum?
E.L.: I am not sure what assurances you want because the Muslims have been living in the south for the last six years with Kiir as a president and I think there have been no persecutions of Muslims, nor has there been any persecution of anybody in the south based on race, religion, creed or place of origin. The government of the south is very, very clear about division between religion and the state. They say that the government, the state, is for everyone and religion is for individuals. Nothing is going to happen in the government which is based on religion. The Kiir government has been protecting all religions; it is protecting all religions at the moment and it will do so in the future.
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