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Interview with Caesar Mazzolari, bishop of Rumbek

4/14/2005 7:47pm

GORDHIM, Apr 13, 2005 (IRIN) -- Since January's peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army to end the war in southern Sudan, the region's former inhabitants have been returning home in their thousands.
Bishop Caesar Mazzolari of the diocese of Rumbek, south Sudan's designated capital, has been involved in pastoral and humanitarian work in the area for many years.

In an interview in Gordhim, a town northwest of Rumbek, on 8 April, he told IRIN that the region was not yet ready to receive the returnees. He also said that southern Sudan needed as much help as [the western region of] Darfur, and appealed to Sudanese intellectuals to return from abroad.

Below are excerpts of that interview:

QUESTION: To what conditions are those who fled the war returning?

ANSWER: Many of the people of the south had to migrate to the north because of the war and because of hunger. Now they are returning and the phonemenon of returnees has began. Last year, half a million people [returned], and this year a million and a half should return to the south, and that means mainly [the region of] Bahr el Ghazal.

We thought we were ready to receive these people, at least in principle, but in fact it is turning out that we are not really ready to welcome.

The south has not been rehabilitated, and in most ways - no rehabilitation of roads - the infrastructure in southern Sudan does not exist. Miles and miles of roads have been abandoned all through the years, which is over 22 years.

No wells have been dug, and those which existed were not maintained. There were 12 [wells] only in the whole of Bahr el Ghazal.

Education does not exist. Only 3 percent of women are literate in the south, and only 16 percent to 17 percent of men. The only real education structures that do exist are the ones provided by the church. It's a real tragedy.

As people come we have discovered that we have no medicine to share with them.

Q: What were people's hopes after the signing of the peace agreement, and how do expectations compare with the reality on the ground?

A: The peace [agreement] was signed on 9 January, but the promotion of the peace project has not taken place, and this is really an appalling thing.

The papers sent around to tell us about the situation are so many. [But] you have to bring the labour force to work in the field - give [them] a programme, don't just expose people to the camera and go and tell [the] whole world that they are still existing.

Everybody is saying "I will come when things are better", and "I will come when the structures are set up". Many people do not come because because of fear, the fear that they can't adjust to the poverty.

This [church] mission lives on the love and charity of the priest [and] the sisters, and they manage to be cordial and accommodating [to] everybody. But the endurance, the capacity to serve these people, is diminishing day by day because of the numbers [who need help].

This peace has to be accompanied by action, and this action has to be sustained with both human and material resources. We need the material resources to develop health centres, water sources [and] schools, but also to support those who will teach [and] those who will work in the hospitals.

We need the human resources of people who will come and say: "We will stay for maybe six months or a year", to train our teachers, to help us develop the schools, to train our nurses.

We need people who will come to train administrators for both health and education projects, so that our donors will know that we are accountable, because the moment we are not accountable the whole thing stops.

Q: Do you feel that the people of southern Sudan are already getting impatient with the peace process?

A: We are just now scratching the surface, and our people are a bit disenchanted [and ask themselves] "What are our leaders doing, and what are we to do?"

The other thing that militates against peace is the fact that disarmament is not taking place. Many commanders are still acting out of the power of the gun - they prevail over tribunals, they prevail over justice cases.

I have heard of two or three [cases] from my priests [of] total injustice. [The cases were] total prevarication[s] of the truth because they [commanders] were powerful with the gun. I denounced it, but it does not make any difference.

[There also a need for] the proclamation of a very clear law that governs civil society, and the training of a civil police force. We [should] put all the soldiers, all the commanders and all the military who are not supposed to be around away - which is in the plan but is not being done.

The capital of all these military people is in the Yirol county [east of Rumbek], which [is] on the eastern side of Bahr el Ghazal. People are still armed, people are hiding their weapons, and so because of the disenchantment we have conflicts everywhere.

Some of my schools are not properly registered because there are conflicts between clans - places like Mapuordit [a small town in Yirol] that used to have 2,000 students in the primary [school] only have 500 students today.

Q: And what are the positive developments?

A: What is positive is, for instance, what the church [is] doing, and what some NGOs are beginning to come and try to do. But they are coming on tiptoe. They are not really sure, and most of them are not prepared [for] the Sudanese scene. How long will be their comitment? How serious will be their commitment?

The church is trying to expand the availability [of] education, health and of course our main task - evangelisation. But we need to be sided [supported] by many more NGOs.

Q: And what, in your view, should the new government of the south be doing?

A: I think our people deserve that their government goes beyond just deliberating, and begins to formulate the way forward. This will happen through the South to South dialogue, which is essential.

The majority of [Sudanese] intellectuals, the majority of people who could lead this country are either in Kenya, in Egypt, in the United States, in Australia, you name it, and they [have] so far refused to come back.

They were afraid to come back for fear that they would be enlisted [into] active war. They were afraid to come back for many other reasons, [one being that] they would never receive the salaries they are receiving where they are.

These people have been totally alienated from the poverty of their country. They would never be able to fit in without electricity, without water, without the convenience of schools for their children, without medicine - the utter poverty that is here.

These are the human factors, and social factors, and economic factors that people do not reflect on.

And what is happening to the US $500 million that was promised to the Sudan by the international community? We have received maybe $25 million.

They claim that another $25 million will come, but this is peanuts [once you] know that the roads have to be redone, the railroads should be done, the improvement of all basic services have to be done. How do you do it with $25 million? Has the international community lost interest?

All this glowing and glamorous chorus [saying] "Peace has come to Sudan" is not true. It has not come. We have to bring it, it has not actually entered the lives of the people. All they continue to repeat is the word chok, which means hunger. And if you tell them that you will give something later they laugh, because they say there will be nothing later.

We seem to be suffering from a delay, whereby there is no dialogue between the leadership and the people. There is no [one] informing them. There is a distance which has to be overcome soon.

Q: What is your appeal to the international community?

A: Come and see - without being afraid - the reality of a humanity that has been forsaken. It takes the real solidarity of people who take a risk to be able to help these people get on their feet through both material resources [and] the human resource of training them.

Q: How would you compare the reality in the south with the reaction to the crisis in Darfur?

[There must be] a willingness to realise that Sudan is not Darfur. Darfur is a little island which is being glamorised, and for which help was provided in abundance. The rest of Sudan is not suffering the atrocities of Darfur, but it is suffering the same human misery.

The misery of the south of Sudan has to be assessed more objectively and more dispassionately. We have grown emotional about the spectacular show that was made of Darfur, but if a show could be made realistically of what goes on here [in the south], you would see that southern Sudan is full of Darfur without the same violence.

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