In Sudan, It's Now Wait and See

Government and SPLA Rebels Sign Peace Treaty

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NAIROBI, Kenya, JAN. 10, 2005 ( The peace agreement between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army could end the 21-year war that has left 2 million dead, including victims of sickness.

«The signing of peace is a very significant event,» Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek told Vatican Radio. In his opinion, the participation of 17 states, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other personalities «has an extraordinary significance that might create an expectation that will not be disappointed immediately.»

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman and SPLA leader John Garang signed the pact Sunday in Nairobi.

Among the witnesses were Kenyan President Muai Kibaki, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and representatives of the United Nations and the European Union.

The agreement aims to halt the conflict that broke out in 1983, when then President Gaafar Nimeiry established Shariah, or Islamic law.

In 1989, a process of forced Islamization was carried out in the south. Since then, civil war has confronted the regime of the north — the Khartoum government, an Arab and white ethnic group of Muslim religion — with rebellion in the south — a black population that is primarily animist and Christian.

The agreement, signed in a ceremony in the Nyayo National Stadium in the Kenyan capital, concluded the negotiations initiated in October 2002, the Missionary Service News Agency reported.

The north will be able to continue to enforce Shariah, while the south will have the right of autonomy for six years, at the end of which it might vote for independence in a referendum.

The agreement also provides for the division of half of the country’s oil resources, the formation of a new armed force, and the participation of SPLA rebels in the Khartoum executive.

In any case, Bishop Cesare Mazzolari warned that the next six months will be a «difficult period,» as «the north and south will have to prepare their Constitutions to be governed in an autonomous manner.»

They will be crucial months and «might indicate positive things,» or «be months of new conflict,» he said. «The expectations are great, but everything still remains to be seen.»

The signing of the agreement is «a historical event that should favor the process of normalization in the Horn of Africa, one of the most burning of the African continent,» Comboni Father Giulio Albanese told Vatican Radio. The missionary-journalist headed the Missionary Service News Agency until a few months ago.

He said that Khartoum’s decision to extend Islamic law was what triggered the outbreak of the conflict. Yet, oil interests «have been evident» from the beginning «and, paradoxically, have given substance, after years of torments, to the negotiation between north and south,» the missionary said.

During the war years, both sides «committed crimes and other outrages against defenseless civilians,» Father Albanese said.

«The signing,» he added, «has in fact the taste of a division of power between two former enemies, something that might — in the medium or long term — compromise the difficult internal balances. … There is a long way to go, above all in regard to the delicate process of integration between the diverse political, ethnic and religious components present in the territory of the largest African country.»

The agreement does not address the crisis in the western region of Darfur, the scene of warlike confrontations since February 2003. That crisis pits government-backed militias, which are terrorizing the civilian population, against two popular self-defense rebel groups — the Movement for Justice and Equality, and the Sudan Liberation Army-Movement.

The fighting, whose declared cease-fire has been repeatedly violated, has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of 1.7 million.

John Garang, leader of the rebels of southern Sudan, «has promised to resolve the issue» of Darfur with all possible speed, «as soon as he assumes the role of vice president,» Father Albanese said.

For his part, Bishop Macram Max Gassis of the Sudanese southern city of El Obeid, obliged for the past two years to live in Kenya, told the Missionary Service News Agency that during the signing of the agreement in Nairobi «a very positive air was breathed.»

«We have heard many statements and speeches of numerous heads of state,» he said. «We’ll see if this signing is now applied concretely.»

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