African inter-faith call to back vital Sudan peace process

By staff writers
February 16, 2007

After a visit to Sudan which included discussions with political and religious leaders in Khartoum and Juba, an African interfaith delegation has called on the international community to honour its political and financial pledges to sustain Sudan's peace process.

"Peace in Sudan will be the base for stability and peace for the whole region and Africa," the delegation of religious leaders representing the Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA) said in a statement following their 9-14 January trip.

The delegation, led by the Rev Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and convenor of IFAPA, said the people they met including community-based women and youth groups, had emphasized that the conflict in the Sudan "was clearly not a religious one but rather political."

Other delegation members included Mr Prabhudas Pattni, secretary general of the Hindu Council of Africa; the Mufti of Rwanda, Sheikh Swalleh Habimana; Ms Margaret Arach Orech of the Landmine Survivors Network (Uganda); and IFAPA coordinator, Sheikh Saliou Mbacka.

Representatives of the Sudan Council of Churches and the host organization, the Sudan Inter-Religious Council (SIRC), joined the delegation inside Sudan. Established in 2002, IFAPA comprises representatives of Africa?¢s inter-religious councils and networks, working together to promote peace on the continent.

Discussions in Khartoum and Juba focused on the difficulties related to the implementation of the peace processes in Sudan including the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People?¢s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) between the government and the Sudan Liberation Movement and accords with insurgent groups in eastern Sudan.

The various religious communities, political parties and civil society groups expressed their appreciation for the agreements, but they also cited difficulties with the accords, especially the bilateral approach, which excluded other parties.

Concern was also raised about the slow withdrawal of government troops from the South, and the presence of militia groups allegedly sponsored from within and outside the country. The people also stressed the need for a more equitable infrastructural investment, equal sharing of the country's oil revenues, and respect for its vast cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.

"These peace accords should be considered as the basis for a multi-party constitutional agreement. It is also urgent for the international community to honor the financial support pledged for Sudan's reconstruction at the April 2005 international Donors' Conference on Sudan in Oslo, Norway. The implementation of the country's peace process will not be possible without such assistance," Noko declared.

During discussions with Sudan?¢s Vice President Ali Osman Taha, the IFAPA delegation emphasized that the country's future political stability will require collaboration between religious and political leaders. "One cannot leave the religions out of the discussion or put them down as bothersome," the vice-president responded.

The delegation's discussions with the former premier, Imam Sadik Al-Mahdi in Khartoum focused on multi-dimensional approaches to resolving the conflicts in the country. He stressed the need to address human rights and freedom, saying, "We need time and we need transparency, reliability, participation, and legal stability." Inclusion, he added, "is the key to reconciliation and peace."

During an encounter with Mr Abiodun Bashua, director for political affairs in the office of the United Nations special representative in Sudan, Bashua explained the complexity of imphich was signed under the auspices of the Africa Union (AU).

From his assessment, the probleestern region is exacerbated by factors such as a major fragmentation which had led to the emergence of 15 different rebel groups, and the fact that the "AU doesn't have the means to implement the DPA." He urged IFAPA and the SIRC to convince the parties involved in the conflict to work on a commitment to a cease fire and resumption of talks.

Over 150,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflict in Sudan?¢s western region pitting the Janjaweed militia groups against the local people. An estimated 2 million have fled their homes and are in camps for internally displaced people. The civilian population is targeted by the militias and reportedly by government forces' air and bombing raids.

In South Sudan's capital, Juba, the IFAPA group was received by a high-level delegation including the Speaker of Parliament James Wani Igga and chairpersons of several parliamentary committees. They explained the difficulties related to the presence of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), especially in relation to the government's operations to flush out the insurgent group that has waged a 20-year war against the government of Uganda, operating from bases in northern Uganda and South Sudan, and frequently targeting southern Sudanese civilians.

The North Uganda peace process was discussed extensively, and the IFAPA delegation proceeded to Uganda where further meetings were held under the auspices of Uganda's inter-religious council.

During a conversation with South Sudan's Minister for Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs, the Honourable Mary Kiden Kimbo, the minister affirmed the role of the ecumenical community in providing humanitarian assistance during the country's civil war.

"At a time of suffering, the church became a major factor for us," Kimbo said. She also stressed the potential role of religious communities for the incipient peace process. "The CPA must become a document that is known in churches and mosques," she added.

The CPA formally ended Sudan?¢s civil war that started in 1983, pitting the north?¢s Khartoum government against the SPLM/A in the south. An estimated 2 million people died as a result of the conflict, and another 4 million were displaced internally in the south, while some 500,000 fled the country.

Klaus Rieth, from the Evangelical Church in Wurttemberg, Germany, accompanied the IFAPA delegation to Khartoum and Juba, Sudan, and contributed to this article.

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