By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- A significant section of a Christian training center in volatile southern Sudan has been destroyed by fire, the group that runs the center confirmed Wednesday, February 28.
Open Doors, an advocacy group supporting Christians persecuted for their faith, told BosNewsLife that although nobody was killed or injured in last week's blaze, the "damage was significant." The group said flames reached the sleeping and wash facilities of students as well as the kitchen of the center. The 160 students, who managed to safe most of their personal belongings, are now spending the night in the center's class rooms, Open Doors said.
"We are thankful that nobody was killed or injured and that not all buildings of the complex was destroyed," said Open Doors Spokesman Jeno Sebok in a statement to BosNewsLife. "Although the fire came as a shock for the teachers and students, they have been trusting God who controls the situation. They saw no reason to panic," he added.
It was not immediately clear why the fire broke out, but it came at a sensitive time in southern Sudan where Christians are still recovering after more than two decades of civil war.
Human rights groups say that the policy of forced Islamization launched by the government based in northern Sudan resulted in "virtual genocide" of non-Muslim Sudanese peoples in the southern part of the troubled nation. The second civil war broke out in 1983, almost ten years after a previous civil conflict ended. Famine-related effects resulted in over four million people displaced and, according to rebel estimates, more than two million deaths over a period of two decades.
A shaky 2005 peace treaty granted southern rebels opposing Islamization autonomy for six years, after which a referendum for independence is scheduled to be held. The separate conflict, which broke out in the western region of Darfur in 2003, resulted in at least 200,000 deaths and nearly two million displaced, according to estimates. Since 2005, peacekeeping troops have been struggling to stabilize the situation in Sudan, which faces large refugee influxes from volatile neighboring countries, primarily Ethiopia and Chad.
Open Doors and other groups are supporting Christians who have reportedly been in the crossfire of religious strife in the region. Christians comprise roughly five percent and those following indigenous beliefs 25 percent of Sudan's predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 41.2 million people, according to estimates. Most Sunni Muslims live in the north of the country, while Christians are mostly living in the south and the capital Khartoum.
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