Church leaders in Sudan are welcoming a peace agreement signed between the transitional government and rebel groups on 3 October, after a year of talks in Juba City, the South Sudanese capital.
The pact signed by the Sudan Revolutionary Front bids rebel groups in Darfur, the country’s war ravaged western province which is the size of France, and others in the Southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
It covers a range of issues including security, power-sharing, reparations and compensation to wealth and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. It also requires the rebel factions to dissolve and be integrated into the national army.
“We are very happy about the peace agreement. The people are tired of war and want peace. Any effort that “silences the guns” and allows the people to live in peace is highly welcome,” Rev. William Deng Mian, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches who was at talks said in a telephone interview.
“The peace agreement is well accepted and appreciated by all Sudanese people in general and particularly those of Darfur since it will end the war and the suffering of the people which started in 2003,” added Rev. Musa Timothy, general secretary of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The cleric spoke as the deal continued to trigger celebrations in the northeast African country, but concerns were also emerging about two rebel groups which had stayed away. Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Abdul Wahed El Noor and the South Kordofan based wing of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North, led by Abdelaziz Al-Hilu were not at the table. The absence of general commander Abdul Wahed El Noor in the agreement meant Darfurians were still not yet in full serenity and peace, Timothy warned.
But Mian said religious leaders and the government were working to ensure the two groups come to the peace table.
“We are talking to them. I am confident that double effort by the Christians and Muslims jointly and the government will yield results,” said the leader, while adding that the faith leaders were taking time to explain that, to the people, the demand for the separation of state and religion did not mean secularization of the country.
In August, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North signed a separate peace agreement which allows the rebel group to keep their guns for self-protection until the constitution is changed to guarantee the separation of state and religion. Church leaders welcomed this agreement as a good gesture to peace.
Since taking over after the ouster of the former long-serving leader president Hassan Omar al-Bashir in popular protests in April 2019, the council has accelerated its efforts to transform Sudan into a democratic state.
“The agreement will help Sudan transform smoothly to a state of justice, citizenship, freedom and democracy,” general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the council’s leader said during the signing. He also stated the council’s determination to implement the protocols of the agreement.
The guarantors of the peace agreement are the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations, and countries: Chad, Qatar and Egypt.
“The signing of the Juba Peace agreement …signals the dawn of a new era for the people of Sudan. Ensuring successful implementation will require commitment and collaboration of all,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general in a congratulatory message in which he also urged the hold groups to join the peace.
For many years, Sudan has been split by a constant war between majority Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. In Darfur, fighting ignited in 2003 over alleged government oppression of non-Arabs, while in Southern Blue Nile and Kordofan, unresolved issues of the 1983-1995 Sudanese war prompted the rebels to pick up arms.
More than 300,000 have died in the Darfur conflict which has forced thousands of others to flee the country into neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, according to humanitarian agencies.