Sudan Peace Deal Seen as Fragile

Overlooks Conflict in Darfur, Says Bishop of Rumbek

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KHARTOUM, Sudan, MAY 30, 2004 ( The peace agreement between Sudan’s Islamic government and its southern rebels is a key step forward — “but on a land that is mined and full of snares,” cautions a bishop.

The agreement last Wednesday came after two years of talks aimed at ending the country’s 21-year civil war.

The conflict, between the Khartoum government, which is Arab, white and Muslim, and the rebellious south, made up primarily of animists, Christians and indigenous Africans, has left more than 2 million dead.

The war broke out in 1983 when President Gaafar Nimeiri established the Shariah, Islamic law. Forced Islamization of the southern peoples began in 1989.

The agreement was signed by John Garang of the Dinka tribe, leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and by Sudanese Vice President Osman Mohammed Taha Hala. Kenya, the United States, Great Britain, Italy and Norway played an important part as mediators.

According to the signed text, the Shariah will be enforced in the north but not in the south. It was agreed that during the transition period the Shariah will be enforced in the capital, Khartoum, but non-Muslims will be exempt from the most radical punishments of Islamic law, including amputations and stoning.

The agreement also states that profits from oil fields, concentrated primarily in the south, will be divided equally between the central government and the administration of the southern regions.

“It is a very fragile and delicate agreement that in any case opens a breach to peace,” Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of the Rumbek Diocese told the Missionary Service News Agency. He spoke in Naivasha, Kenya.

“I don’t understand why the international community has exerted pressure to sign in haste an agreement that, among other things, in no way resolves the question of Darfur” in western Sudan, the bishop said.

In Darfur, Arab government militias are fighting black African groups calling for more attention from the central government for the underdeveloped region. The groups are the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement.

That conflict has already caused 10,000 deaths and prompted 100,000 refugees to flee to Chad, the Vatican agency Fides reported.

The war in Darfur has made the food shortage in Sudan ever more acute. A joint report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program says that about 3.6 million people will have to rely on food supplies from international humanitarian organizations.

According to the report, “The present conflict in Darfur has caused considerable damage to farmland and made at least 1.2 million people refugees.” Although a good harvest is expected this year, more food will be needed, Fides added.

Sudanese Bishop Macram Max Gassis recently told Vatican Radio that the aim of the Arab militias’ attack against Darfur’s ethnic group is “to occupy their land, as they have done in other places. They want to move the Arab race to the more fertile areas.”

The bishop added: “A process of Arabization is under way in Darfur.”

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