The United Nations has confirmed an attack on a refugee camp in South Sudan's Unity state. The November 11 bombing mission is said to potentially raise tensions with Sudan in the violence-plagued border region. Officials say the raid killed at least 12 people and wounded 20.
Various humanitarian aid and Christian mission organizations are working in the fray of the increased violence.
Aid Workers Evacuate
Samaritan's Purse has been feeding and assisting refugees fleeing violence in the Nuban Mountains at a camp in Yida since early August. The camp population exceeds 20,000. The location of the camp is in the Republic of South Sudan, about 12 miles from the border between the Islamic Republic of Sudan and the newly formed country of the Republic of South Sudan.
Just days after the attack, Samaritan's Purse called for a complete evacuation of its staff in Yida. Reports indicate that Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have moved large artillery about eight miles to the east of Jau, which is about the same distance from Yida. Samaritan’s Purse officials say knowing that the SAF already bombed Yida camp by air in November; it is safe to assume a ground attack could follow.
“I urge the United States and the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in the area to protect not only the innocent civilians there but also those who are trying to help them,” said Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham, who visited the camp six days before the bombing. “My prayer is that the world will not just sit by and watch and hope for the best like they did during Rwanda, where close to a million people were massacred. We need to make it clear to the government of Sudan that attacks on innocent people will not be tolerated.”
Graham also said all staff have been accounted for and are safe.
The bombing occurred as the United Nations agency UNMIS was delivering about 12 metric tons of food, about one day’s ration for the camp population. Workers were unloading a helicopter carrying the food aid for distribution by Samaritan’s Purse.
The White House was quick to react to the bombing.
“The United States strongly condemns the aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces of the town of Yida in South Sudan, said in a statement issued by the Obama Administration. “The United States demands the Government of Sudan halt aerial bombardments immediately. We urge the government of South Sudan to exercise restraint in responding to this provocation to prevent further escalation of hostilities.”
War on Christianity
Officials with Open Doors International contend Christians in the region live beneath a blanket of fear since South Sudan seceded on July 9, 2011. Many Christians are migrating south. Muslims in the North, where an estimated 1 million Christians still live following the secession, fear the potential influence of the church. In just one month after the South voted for independence from the predominantly Islamic North, pressure increased on churches and Christians, with Muslim groups threatening to destroy churches, kill Christians and purge the country of Christianity.
"We have seen and documented bombs falling on refugee camps in critical areas,” said Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA. “We have 300,000 displaced in that area. We've got people being killed on a regular basis and literally bombs being dropped, and it's as if nothing is taking place. If there's a full-scale war going on, eventually it'll come to the world's attention.”
The Muslim-based government in the North attempted to force the predominantly Christian South to submit to Islamic law during 20 years of civil war from 1983 to 2005. Leonard Leo of the Washington, D.C.-based United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) denounced the recent attacks and called the bombings “clearly an outgrowth of Sudan’s hostility against religious freedom.”
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir stated in Khartoum on Oct. 12 that Sudan will have a strictly Islamic identity. Church leaders are concerned that under strict Sharia law, the church will suffer targeted persecution. Threats have caused Christians to stay away from some church services, and some government leaders have ordered pastors to close down churches without proper documentation.
Called to Serve Even in Persecution
In spite of the increased violence, Mission Network News reports a missionary couple is heading to the volatile region of South Sudan.
Long before the attacks, Lynn and Sharon Fogleman felt a special call to serve in the area. The Foglemans are family physicians and worked in Kenya several years ago.
"[We plan] to work with the villagers that are working, that are living near churches, that have been planted in that area within the last six years and helping to teach them about disease prevention, incorporating the Gospel story as well," Lynn explained to Mission Network News.
The Fogelmans will head to South Sudan with The Mission Society in February 2012. One of their responsibilities will include seeking peacekeeping in the volatile nation, which some suspect the north and the south will be at war again soon.
"The tribes that make up South Sudan must continue to maintain that solidarity," said Lynn. "I believe that's part of the role of any of us who go to work in such an area: to be peacemakers, peacekeepers, reminding us that we're all in this together and not let the tribal factions destroy the work that is done so far."
Russ Jones is a 20-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com and a media consultant. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ enjoys keeping his mind engaged in the academic arena teaching subjects like Introduction to World Religions, Intro. to Mass Communication, Ethics, and Biblical Literature at Hutchinson Community College and Central Christian College. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected].
Publication date: December 9, 2011