Home | News    Wednesday 3 December 2003

Sudanese have high hopes negotiations will bring peace, opening way to dealing with ills

RUMBEK, Sudan, Dec 03, 2003 (AP) — After two decades of civil war, Sudanese hope peace may soon be in their grasp, allowing them to tend to the ills fighting has unleashed on Africa’s biggest nation.

Hunger and disease across Sudan’s south are among the worst on Earth. Africa’s longest running war has left more than 2 million dead, mostly from illness and famine, and made refugees of millions more.

Diseases like leprosy, Guinea worm and river blindness are endemic. Tuberculosis and malaria kill tens of thousands every year, while the prevalence of malnutrition is among the world’s most severe.

Many of the worst affected people are trapped in isolated patches of land between government and rebel-held enclaves, virtually unreachable by aid groups and, until recently, seemingly forgotten.

But now it seems possible peace talks may bring an accord within weeks.

The Muslim-led government in Khartoum is eager to shed its reputation in Washington as a rogue regime that sponsors terrorism. Rebels in the Christian and animist south are trying the negotiating table to press their desire for autonomy.

And there’s a crucial new player in the mix — the U.S. government — which says it will consider normalizing relations with Sudan and lifting sanctions if peace is achieved.

"This pressure they are getting from America is actually making a difference," says Daniel Dena Monydit, acting governor in the rebel-held Bahr el Ghazal province. "But if you want peace you must address all the marginalized areas."

After more than a year of talks, a breakthrough came in September when the government in Khartoum agreed to let the Sudan People’s Liberation Army retain its military force in the south, the main area of conflict since war began in 1983, for a six-year transition period.

The Bush administration is pushing to get a peace deal signed by the end of the year. But experts say an accord will mark only the first small step toward long-term stability in Sudan, a country with a population of 30 million.

The real challenge will be keeping the peace between the patchwork of rival tribes and ethnic groups that make up the south.

"This long war has broken down many of the social and cultural institutions that hold a society together,’’ says Herbert Libel, a Jesuit missionary from Austria who works with some of southern Sudan’s poorest. "But at least now, the people have hope."