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Williams 'not optimistic' for Sudan
By Mike Thomson
Today programme

Dr Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury has added his voice to those warning that Sudan is sliding back towards civil war.

World leaders, from President Obama to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, have raised concerns in recent weeks.

Now Dr Rowan Williams has said he is "not optimistic" that war can be averted in Africa's largest country.

"I am very concerned indeed, the forces pulling the country apart are getting stronger," he said, ahead of a news conference making public his concerns.

"The chances are, as somebody said, that this could put Darfur in the shade if it really explodes."

Twenty years of fighting between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian and Animist south, which ended in 2005, left 1.5 million dead.

Friction has grown as a referendum on independence for the oil rich south, which was agreed under the peace agreement which ended the civil war, gets nearer.

It, and another referendum in the oil region of Abyei, is due to be held on 9 January 2011.

Southern Sudaneese children in a refugee camp in Khatoum

However, delays in arranging the registration of voters, agreeing border demarcations and the distribution of oil resources, mean the vote could be delayed.

Many in the south claim the delays are largely the result of foot dragging by the north. They point out that Khartoum will lose control of many lucrative southern oil wells if the south, as widely expected, votes for independence.

It is thought that a lengthy delay could lead the south to declare independence without waiting for referendum, a move which would breach the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the last civil war.

Some, like Daniel Deng, Episcopal Archbishop of Sudan, who will be at today's press conference at Lambeth Palace, believes this would then give the north the excuse it is looking for to invade the south.

I'm feeling urgent about it rather than optimistic.
Archbishop Rowan Williams

"It was not in their thinking that one day the south would break away. But now it has become a reality the only way is to delay everything," he said.

"Then they have to find a way of bringing the country back to war in a technical way so that they are not blamed by the public in the north tomorrow."

It is a claim the north firmly denies.

'Not optimistic'

Dr Williams, who is holding a press conference at Lambeth Palace to voice his concerns, believes that any return to conflict in Sudan could bring terrible suffering to civilians there.

He points to a recent warning from the Khartoum government that southerner refugees from the last conflict who are still living in the north, would be expelled if the south split away.

It is estimated that this could mean the mass expulsion of as many as four million people.

Dr Williams insists that Britain, which is a former colonial power in Sudan, should do all it can to prevent conflict when it takes control of the presidency of the UN Security Council next month.

Daniel Deng, Episcopal Archbishop of Sudan
Archbishop Deng: The north may look for an excuse to invade south Sudan

They should do this, he says, not just for Sudan's sake but for that of surrounding Commonwealth countries too.

"We (Britain) have obvious regional interests," he said. "Commonwealth countries that border Sudan are going to be even more vulnerable if things go badly wrong in Sudan.

"If Sudan dissolves into chaos, which it may well do, then that is not going to be confined to the Sudanese borders it will spill over into Uganda, into Kenya.

"I think we have moral and practical reasons for being deeply concerned about this."

I asked the Archbishop how optimistic he is that a return to civil war can be avoided in Sudan. I had expected an upbeat response. That was not what I got.

"I couldn't honestly say that I'm optimistic at the moment because I don't yet see the forces lined up that will actually step in to try and prevent it.

"We've got a few months, so, I'd rather say I'm feeling urgent about it rather than optimistic."

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