Defusing a time bomb


When he was 7 years old, Francis Bok, a Christian from the southern part of Sudan, was captured and sold into slavery by Arab raiders. Bok spent the next 10 years as a slave before escaping.

Eventually, with the help of Christian groups, Bok emigrated to the United States, where he has devoted himself to telling his story and the plight of other Sudanese Christians. Now he is telling an updated version of the tale, one whose ending is yet to be written.

The story concerns a referendum scheduled for Jan. 9. On that day, the people of southern Sudan will vote on whether to remain a part of Sudan. Even if the run-up of the election had gone smoothly, which it hasn't, there would still be ample reason to fear what happens after the vote.

One government official has hinted that the government "may not recognize the results" of the referendum. Its stated reason is that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement hasn't fulfilled its obligations under the 2005 agreement that ended a 22-year civil war.

That civil war killed at least 2 million people in the south and caused another 4 million to flee their homes. It followed an attempt to impose Sharia law on Sudan's Christians and animists. Those who weren't killed or turned into refuges were often, like Bok, enslaved.

Given this eliminationist history, southerners are expected to vote for independence, and the Sudanese government is expected to balk at letting them go. Not because it's had a change of heart about its Christian population, but because that population is living atop Sudan's oil reserves.

That's the real reason Khartoum, the nation's capitol, won't recognize the results: If the south goes, it will take Sudan's economy with it.

The Sudanese government has already proven, both in the south and, more recently in Darfur, that it is willing to repeatedly commit crimes against humanity to get what it wants. Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has already been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

That's why Bok is crisscrossing this country warning audiences about the likelihood that catastrophic violence will follow the Jan. 9 referendum.  He's not alone: Secretary of State Clinton has called Sudan a "ticking time bomb."

Genocide predicted
More ominously, Dennis Blair, the National Director of Intelligence, told Congress that southern Sudan was the most likely candidate for "a new mass killing or genocide."

Despite the rhetoric, Bok says that he and his countrymen are worried, and it's right that they are. Because the only way the U.S. will protect Bok's people is if the American people, especially Christians, make it clear that standing by and doing nothing is unacceptable.

You and I have an obligation—after all, for two decades, we've been fighting against the persecution of Christians Southern Sudan. And we were successful under the Bush administration in getting a peace agreement in 2005. So, I want you to be prepared now to tell your representatives and the administration they must do the right thing.

Sudanese Christians like Francis Bok are determined not to be enslaved again. The question is: Are we willing to help them safeguard their freedom?

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