As Vatican readies to recognise South Sudan, a look back at tense 1993 papal visit

(A man holds up South Sudan's new flag as South Sudanese children rehearse their dance routine, to be performed at half time during South Sudan's national soccer team's match with Kenya as part of the independence day celebrations, in Juba July 7, 2011/Paul Banks)

As predominantly Christian and animist South Sudan stands on the threshold of independence, one man who helped bring world attention to the suffering of believers there is no longer here to savour the day.

On Feb. 10, 1993, Pope John Paul made a tense visit to Khartoum and pulled no punches in a highly charged meeting with the country’s president, General Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir. In his meeting,  the outspoken pope left diplomacy at the door, as was often his custom when he wanted to speak from the heart. He bluntly compared the suffering of Sudan’s Catholics to the crucifixion of Christ and told the Islamic government that only guaranteeing the rights of  Christians and other minorities would bring peace.

The year before, the Vatican had made a formal public protest about the treatment of the Church in the south, where  civil war had raged between government forces and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Front (SPLA). The Vatican had accused the government of discrimination in education, harassment of priests and closing Catholic organisations since promulgating Islamic law (sharia) in 1991.

The atmosphere was so tense between the Vatican delegation and the Sudanese officials during the one-day stop in Khartoum in 1993 that more than a few reporters accompanying the pope feared that something could happen. At a papal mass on a dusty field outside the capital, soldiers in uniform and well as men in plainclothes who were apparently members of militias waved machine guns in the air right in front of the altar. It was one of the tensest moments in my more that  20 years of travels with the late pope.

from India Insight:

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

The poll has produced startling results. On average 44 percent of people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favoured independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian Kashmir.