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Police raid Sudan churches’ offices during referendum build-up

December 6, 2010

NAIROBI

The head of the Sudan Council of Churches has been calling for close scrutiny of out-of-country referendum registration processes in Kenya, Uganda and Egypt, while also reporting that police recently stormed the council offices breaking down doors, and conducted a search.

The Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, the general secretary of the council, said police forced their way into the council’s offices in Amarat Khartoum on Nov. 14, a Sunday, as 200 men who arrived in seven trucks cordoned off the building.

The churches’ leader said one police officer had said the building was suspected of being a hideaway for weapons. The raid came as Africa’s biggest country is preparing for a plebiscite on Jan. 9 to determine if the north and south will split, Chan noted.

“We met with the police commander who led the forces, but we could not get anything out of him to justify the actions of the officers. He claimed his men had acted in a professional manner in breaking into the building,” Chan told ENInews from Khartoum on Nov. 22, noting that the police did not find anything.

Chan, the general secretary of the body that groups Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, said southern Sudan’s people are at the same time concerned about their votes being manipulated to sway the referendum’s result in favor of unity.

Southern Sudan, where the people are mainly black Christians or followers of traditional African religions, will hold a referendum on whether or not it will secede from the northern part of Africa’s biggest country, which is inhabited mainly by Arabs and Muslims.

“I think … there is great need to monitor the registration in Kenya, Uganda and Egypt very closely less the process is rigged and the problem begins in Sudan again,” Chan had said in Nairobi on Nov. 17. “There are fears among the southerners that Khartoum is out to rig the referendum.”

Registration for the referendum started Nov. 15 and is expected to end Dec. 1. The plebiscite was mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in Nairobi in 2005, bringing to an end decades of civil war in which almost 2 million civilians died.

In Kenya, business people, students and refugees began trickling into five registration centers located in towns and at the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in the north of the country. But some Sudanese have expressed suspicions and fears that they may be prevented from voting.

“It is advisable that they get proper information before they commit to registration,” said Chan. “The law says unless there are 20,000 people registered in a centre, there will be no voting there.”

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