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Cardinal says Sudan must guarantee rights or face peace deal collapse

9/28/2005 11:14am

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- The fragile peace process in Sudan is in danger of collapsing into civil war unless the Islamic government guarantees the rights of non-Muslims, said a Sudanese cardinal.

Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum told a press conference in London Sept. 23 that the success of the peace settlement depended "very much on the good will of those who are in power."

"I think there is hope of peace, but I don't think it's going to be a quick job," the cardinal told Catholic News Service after the meeting.

"We are going to have to work at it and build it slowly and carefully. It depends on whether the government is committed to building peace or to things that would make people start the war again," he added.

During the press conference, the cardinal said people hoped the "new Sudan" would include "more justice, more respect for people" and that marginalized people would "be taken care of and ... enjoy the same citizenship as everyone else."

The cardinal said he was happy with the assurances he had received from Sudan's president, Gen. Omar el Bashir, that the government "will continue the process of peace, and nobody has the intention of reverting to war."

"Good governance is necessary for peace," Cardinal Zubeir Wako said, adding that he remained concerned that the government was continuing to enforce Shariah, or Islamic law, in southern Sudan.

The latest round of civil war in Sudan broke out in 1983, shortly after the government began to enforce Shariah against the wishes of the predominantly Christian and animist peoples in southern Sudan.

However, in January the government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed a peace agreement. Eight protocols spelled out how the North and South are to share wealth and power, how they will manage their armies jointly and separately, the commitment to a permanent cease-fire, the separation of state and religion, and other arrangements. The peace agreement allows for a six-year interim period after which Southerners will decide, in a referendum, whether to remain a part of Sudan or secede. During this time, Shariah remains in force in the North but is not supposed to be applied in southern Sudan.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako told the press conference, organized by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, of his hopes for peace.

He said the challenges facing the church were twofold: to prepare people for peace after a more than 21-year conflict that has claimed more than 2 million lives and to convince the warring parties to lay down their arms for good.

He said a problem was that not many people were truly ready for peace. He said some still sought vengeance, while others wanted compensation.

"War has been sowing the seeds of war all this time," he said.

"Many of us are suffering from a lot of trauma. Unless we find a way of handling this situation, we are not going to be a healthy people," he said.

"There is the question of rehabilitating the people and enabling them to move forward. For the south of Sudan, a lot of things are needed. For 30 or 40 years people have lived in a situation of war," he said.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako said the church was committed to reconciling the opposing factions and that it planned to build schools, to campaign for health care and housing, a clean water supply and road repair.

Fighting spread to western Sudan's Darfur region in 2003 when rebels from black African tribes, led by the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, rose up against what they believed were discriminatory government policies in favor of the Arab Muslim tribes.

Government-backed militias responded by fighting, and the conflict has left 70,000 people dead and has driven 2 million people from their homes and into refugee camps in a campaign the United States and the European Union described as genocide.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako's visit to London came against a background of renewed fighting between soldiers and rebels in Darfur, as well as increasing numbers of attacks on aid convoys by bandits.

The cardinal's visit also coincided with the sixth round of peace talks between the government and Darfur rebel groups; those talks, mediated by officials of the African Union, were scheduled to begin in late September.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako said he agreed with Catholic charities working in Darfur that peacekeeping troops needed a stronger mandate to allow the use of force against armed groups fighting in the region.

The cardinal was due to hold private talks with British Foreign Office officials Sept. 26 on the progress of the peace settlement.

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