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Darfur dims light of Sudan peace

By Peter Bell / May 28, 2004



ATLANTA

The historic peace agreement signed Wednesday between the government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), officially ends a war that has killed 2 million people. The agreement offers Sudan its best hope for peace in two decades. If observed in letter and spirit, it would allow people to return home and build new lives, free from fear and violence.

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But celebrating may be premature. The settlement between the leaders of the majority Christian south and the Muslim government doesn't apply to the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan. This 15-month war between pro-government Arab militias and African tribal rebels has been fought largely over access to arable land. Even as parties to the new agreement were negotiating in recent months, the Darfur humanitarian disaster was raging out of control - with thousands of civilians fleeing attacks that left thousands of others dead, villages burned, livestock destroyed, and crops ruined. All told, 1 million people have been displaced and tens of thousands killed in the region. Without full access by aide groups and enforcement of the law, thousands more will suffer - increasingly so as the rainy season sets in and roads become impassible.

Many parties are to be commended for the settlement - the governments of Kenya, Norway, Britain, and the US, among others, helped. But the humanitarian disaster and ongoing human rights abuses in Darfur dim the peace agreement's light. Despite the momentous progress, neither the government of Sudan nor the SPLM has paid sufficient attention to key underlying causes of Sudan's conflicts: The crisis of governance, lack of respect for human rights, and marginalization of civil society have contributed to the war, and caused new crises.

The causes of the Darfur conflict are replicated elsewhere, notably in the eastern Beja area. Such conflicts underscore the fractures within Sudanese society and refute the perception that conflict is simply a north-south divide. Any lasting settlement must tackle the underlying causes of conflict in these areas. Four elements critical to sustain peace must be met:

• All Sudanese must see the fruits of peace. The parties have agreed to an equitable sharing of wealth and power, including income derived from the country's considerable oil resources. Because 9 out of 10 Sudanese now live in poverty, such income should be directed toward poverty alleviation.

• Security is critical. All Sudanese must live without fear if they're to build for the future. People who've been forced from their homes must be able to return. Armed militia must no longer be permitted to terrorize any region.

• A just and lasting peace requires real changes in methods of governance and accountability, and increased participation of ordinary people in decisionmaking. For peace to take root, all Sudanese must have a stake in their future.

• Continued engagement of the international community is vital. The UN can now strengthen its planning for a peacekeeping operation. Donor countries and agencies must coordinate their reconstruction and rehabilitation work to encourage reconciliation. Concerned governments must support demobilization and reintegration of combatants into communities and the creation of professional military forces that genuinely protect civilians.

All parties to the settlement have expressed an optimism unseen in earlier peace attempts. But those with entrenched interest in war must be persuaded to invest in peace. While the government ultimately shoulders responsibility for ensuring lasting peace, the international community can help through strong incentives and disincentives - political and economic. The familiar scenario of "Got peace? Good! Now, good luck and good-bye" must be avoided.

Implementation of the settlement won't be easy: Success rests on the staying power of the Sudanese and the international community.

Peter Bell is president and CEO of CARE USA, an international humanitarian organization that has worked in Sudan for 25 years.

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