Darfur Peace Step Draws Cautious Optimism from Methodists

A newly signed declaration to resolve conflict in Sudan's Darfur region drew 'cautious optimism' from United Methodist mission heads.

A newly signed declaration to resolve conflict that has killed an estimated 180,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes in Sudan's Darfur region has drawn "cautious optimism" from United Methodist mission heads.

The broad declaration of principles, which was signed by the Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups on July 6, was agreed upon after almost four weeks of talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

In a joint statement made by the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of General Board of Global Ministries, and the Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the mission executives said they were “cautiously optimistic that a major step has been taken today in the cause of peace and stability in Sudan.”

“We are grateful to the African Union for its persistence in working toward a political solution in the face of formidable challenges,” the July 6 statement said.

Although mediators from the African Union said the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups – the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – postponed working out the finer details of the peace settlement until the end of August, all three parties to the talks hailed the three-page declaration as a crucial step forward in the conflict that has led to the displacement of more than two million people and the deaths of about 180,000 in an area about the size of Texas in western Sudan.

International press reports indicate that the two rebel groups were encouraged to find common ground before they meet again with Sudanese officials and African Union officials in Abuja for more negotiations starting on Aug. 24.

As peace and stability slowly return to Darfur, Dirdak said he expects UMCOR’s Darfur project will have a long lifetime. “UMCOR made a commitment to the region before formal peace agreements were reached,” he said, “and we expect to provide recovery and relief efforts for years to come.”

UMCOR opened operations inside Darfur earlier this year. Aid workers are constructing a reception center, family shelters, and sanitation facilities at a 200,000-resident displaced persons camp at Al Ferdous, south of Nyala, the regional capital of South Darfur. The agency expects to be named overall manager of all the nongovernmental organizations providing services at the camp.

In addition UMCOR is offering an agriculture extension program to 250 beneficiary families in Al Daein, near Nyala. The locations were among recommendations of an investigative team, which spent three weeks late last year in the region for the agency. UMCOR workers also have distributed essential emergency supplies such as buckets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, and soap.

So far, UMCOR’s work in Darfur has been funded by Neighbors in Need, a donor group; a food security bequest; a UMCOR Sudan Emergency Advance. Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, a congregation in Tipp City, Ohio, pledged a significant gift for UMCOR’s Sudan start-up from special 2004 Christmas offerings.

“We are committed to continue our humanitarian work in Darfur as long as there is need and we have resources,” the Day-Dirdak statement said. “The hundreds of thousands of homeless people will need our assistance far into the future. Let us not assume that peace—even a secure peace—relieves us of the duty of helping to provide for secure social and economic futures for the people of Darfur.”

As the humanitarian agency of the United Methodist Church, UMCOR has helped to “heal the hurts of humanity” in nearly 100 countries since 1940, providing relief in disaster areas, aiding refugees and confronting the challenge of world hunger and poverty. It is one of several entities within the General Board of Global Ministries.