On May 26, the government of Sudan and the main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, signed key agreements that would pave the way for a comprehensive peace accord to end a 21-year long civil war. While the agreements are not related to the conflict in the Dafur region of western Sudan, where widespread fighting between government and rebel forces have raised fears of an ethnic cleansing, the churches in Africa celebrated the signing as an historical mark of peace.
“This is superb. We have been waiting for the agreement for a long time. We are really tired of war,” Sudanese Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Abangite Gasi told Ecumenical News International after the signing ceremony in Naivasha, a town about 80 kilometers west of Nairobi. “But the church expects this comes as real peace. The people also expect true, just and long lasting peace.”
Sudan’s Islamic government and the SPLA have been fighting for control since 1983, killing an estimated 2 million and displacing millions of others.
The May 26 treaties centered around three protocols on power sharing and the administration of three disputed areas in central Sudan. The agreements would allow the south to be autonomous for six years, after which the people will undertake a referendum on whether to secede or not. On the north, the Sharia (Islamic law) would be held. In terms of revenue, the system would allow the establishment of separate monetary systems in the south and north, and the formation of separate armies. The final cease-fire agreement is due within a month.
“This victory is not only for the people of Sudan but also the African continent,” Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki said in a statement. “I hope it will accelerate peace in Somalia.”
The Kenyan foreign minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, said he hopes the agreements would have a ripple affect on the conflict in the Dafur region as well.
“Even before they sign the final peace agreement, I expect the Sudanese people at the ground will get the message, embrace each other and live together in peace,” he said.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches also commented that the WCC would support any effort to bring peace in the war-torn nation.
"We are willing to consider and help in promoting any proposal or suggestion that Sudan's government may have to contribute to an early end to the conflict so that peace can prevail," Kobia stressed.
However, Kobia emphasized the need to extend peacemaking efforts in the Dafur region as well.
"We have urged the president of Sudan to work for an immediate end to hostilities and to take steps to resolve the conflict through a negotiated settlement so that much needed humanitarian relief is able to reach those in desperate need of such assistance,” said Kobia.
"We also urged the president to take steps to put an end to human rights violations in the region and to ensure that those guilty of committing acts of violence and human rights abuses are brought to justice.”