Home | News    Tuesday 29 July 2003 (Date first published: 29 July 2003).

Politics-Sudan: Church Urges Mediators To Follow Up Any Accord


NAIROBI, Jul 28, 2003 (IPS) — The church has appealed to the mediators of Sudanese peace talks not to abandon the process even if a deal is signed in August.

Talks between the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will resume in Kenya on Aug. 10.

Church leaders in Sudan say they want Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to avoid the mistakes committed after the first civil war, which ended in 1972. That peace was short-lived because the brokers abandoned the process, leaving it to the warring parties to go it alone, they say.

IGAD comprises Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan.

The agreement, brokered by the All Africa Conference of Churches and World Council of Churches, lasted from 1972 to 1983, the only period of tranquillity experienced in Sudan since the first civil war broke out there in 1955.

The current conflict erupted in May 1983.

"We do not want a short-term peace agreement. We are hungry for a lasting peace and we are pleading with the mediators not to quit the process in the event of a final agreement," says Emmanuel Lowila, Programme Officer of New Sudan Council of Churches.

The church, he says, is building structures to promote the peace process. It is also sensitising the population on what will be spelt out in the proposed peace deal.

"Whenever there is any statement from IGAD, we take it and reflect on it together with the people, and forward our observations to the mediator," asserts Catholic Bishop Paride Taban of Torit, South Sudan.

The church has a special envoy at the talks to convey a wider feeling of the civil society.

"We are the conscience of the people, we suffer with them, and rejoice with them, both in refugee camps and at home," remarks Bishop Taban.

"Since May, we have been travelling from village to village, parish to parish and county to county, sensitising people on peace," he says.

The church in Sudan is also a member of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, which advocates for peace in the war-ravaged northern Uganda. "We are involved because the conflict in that region affects us," notes Taban, referring to the fighting between Uganda army and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

"The Church has been very vocal and public, and through its efforts, the peace deal may be just a reality," states Harold Miller, Sudan envoy of the Mennonite Central Committee, a Canadian Christian relief organization.

He is confident the present process will culminate in a lasting peace for Sudan which has experienced the longest running civil war in Africa. "The presence of UN, African Union and other bodies as observers, has strengthened the current peace talks. There is a definite structure and reinforcement, unlike the 1972 agreement. With this backing, the expected peace agreement will have some teeth and will last much longer," he says.

Setri Nyomi, secretary general of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, says they are also looking forward to a lasting peace in Sudan.

"We are involved in peace projects, through the Presbyterian churches on the ground there, and we are all looking forward to a peaceful nation," he told IPS from Canada, where he is attending the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation.

The current peace talks started in June last year in Machakos, 65 kms south east of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The talks resulted in the Machakos Protocol, signed between government of Sudan and the SPLA on July 20.

The protocol aims at ending the war which has left over two million people dead and more than four million displaced within Sudan’s borders, destroying the physical and moral fabric of south Sudanese society.

It also addresses the right to self-determination of south Sudanese, and separation of religion and state that were the bone of contention between the south and north.

The warring parties agreed to the right of self-determination for the south, which will be exercised through an internationally monitored referendum after a six-year transitional period.

Under the protocol, Islamic sharia law will only apply to northern states which are Muslim, while the southern region, which is predominantly Christian, will have a secular legislation.

The sixth round of talks collapsed after the government accused IGAD of leaning toward the rebel movement.

Norway, the United States, Britain and Italy, which are observing the talks, are pressuring the government of Sudan to return to the negotiating table.

The talks are expected to resume on Aug. 10.

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