Sudanese church leaders and Christian relief organizations working in the war-torn nation cautiously applauded the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Nairobi on Sunday, but reminded the public that the landmark signing is only the beginning to a long road of peace-making, comforting and rebuilding.
Many people in southern Sudan are joyful about this signing of peace, Archbishop Joseph Marona of the Episcopal Church of Sudan told Ecumenical News International. The peace means a lot to them because southern Sudan has suffered for many years.
The historic treaty, which took two years in the making, officially ended more than 21 years of war that left at least 2 million dead and 4 million homeless. The January 9th peace accord has eight protocols detailing power, wealth sharing, security and a permanent ceasefire between the Muslim Northern Khartoum government that the Southern mainly Christian rebels.
We applaud the South and North for signing the peace agreement, Kenyan Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said in Nairobi. It is our prayer that Sudan will now be peaceful and the people will work together to build their country. We hope the religious groups will also tolerate each other.
The Rev. Paul Yugusuk of the Episcopal Church of Sudan agreed, saying they are very satisfied with the peace accord because it meets the expectation of peace in Southern Sudan.
He added that the agreement would deliver peace based on the Christian ideas of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and unity, according to the ENI.
The war in Sudan began in 1983 after the Muslim Khartoum government tried to force Islamic law on the people. The mostly black, animist and Christian South rejected the forced law, thus sparking a conflict that will be remembered as one of the deadliest and longest war in Africa.
Sundays agreement between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement leader John Garang and Sudans vice president Ali Osman Taha lays out a six-year transition period to ease the move toward peace. The peace accord will ultimately turn Garang, who had opposed the government forces for decades, into Sudans first vice president, and will allow Southern Sudans 10 states to remain secular while the North practices Islamic law. The immediate first step of implementing the plan is amending the Sudanese constitution to enable the formation of a government of national unity with the Southern rebels; the deadline for the amendment is in six months.
In light of the sensitivities involved with drafting such an amendment, Christian agencies encouraged the international community to step in and ensure the fledgling peace deal is implemented through prayers and funds.
"The next six months are the most fragile for this fledgling peace deal. A strong peacekeeping mission must be deployed quickly by the United Nations. Sudan has been ravaged by civil war for generations, and donors need to commit funds for essential development," said Cynthia Gaigals, a spokesperson for CARE International, Christian Aid, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam International, Save the Children and Tearfund.
The agencies also noted the peace accord did not take into account the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have been made homeless and tens of thousands of people have died in a period of 18 months.
The deal does not take into account the separate clash in the western province of Darfur, which poses the greatest threat to stability, Christian Aid explained in a statement. A meeting of donor countries is scheduled to meet in Oslo, Norway on 15 January. It is imperative that donors commit the funds needed to bring the country out of the devastation caused by generations of civil war.
"In Darfur nearly two million people have been driven from their homes, continued abuses and unrelenting attacks are a tragic light on the peace process," Gaigals explained.
Nonetheless, officials and Christian leaders expressed hopes that the North-South peace accord can act as a blueprint to end the separate fighting in Darfur between the government and Arab rebels.
According to the Associated Press, combatants in Darfur laid down their guns temporarily to let 5,000 health and humanitarian workers and volunteers begin immunizing 1.3 million Darfur children against polio on Monday.
Overall, the Christian leaders said they were encouraged by the peace treaty.
"The agreement offers Sudan the best hope yet for peace. said Gaigals.
For millions of displaced people it will signal the start of their journey home. It is the start of the process of healing for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who have borne the brunt of this cruel conflict.