Action for peace has already started in the disputed area of Abyei. Impatient for a full peace agreement to be signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the people of Abyei are taking the initiative to try to resolve conflict and reduce tension in the area. The catalyst for this initiative has been a peace-building workshop organised by the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) with the support of Tear Fund (UK).
ECS is seeking to mobilise local communities through a series of peace-building workshops arranged under the ECS Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee. With the signing of the Naivasha Protocols, this work has taken on a new urgency, and aims to publicise the protocols as well as address the issues of peace-building, advocacy, human rights, and the ministry of healing and reconciliation.
Abyei has long been a contested zone. The 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement provided for the right of self-determination through a referendum for areas "culturally and geographically" associated with the South such as Abyei. But this commitment was never fulfilled, leading to a localised uprising even before the SPLM/A was formed. The Abyei Protocol, signed in Naivasha, now provides for a referendum to take place specifically for Abyei after the six-year interim period. But information on the ground has been lacking. The ECS team conducting the workshop found that hardly anyone had previously seen the text of the protocol and many distorted ideas existed locally over its contents.
All nine Ngok chiefdoms were represented in the peace-building workshop, together with church and community leaders from ECS and the Catholic Church. Representatives of neighbouring tribes in Bahr al-Ghazal such as the Dinka Twic of Gogrial and Dinka Rek of Tonj also participated. The leader of the ECS team, the Rt Revd Daniel Deng, Bishop of Renk and Chairman of the ECS Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee, welcomed the breadth of participation and the full involvement of women and youth leaders:
"It was a great success bringing church and community leaders together. We shall use this model again elsewhere. By the end of the workshop, all the different groups involved had elected representatives to serve on a local Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee."
The local committees face many challenges in working to establish justice, peace and reconciliation on the ground. Many of the local population are fearful and traumatised as a result of prolonged conflict in the area. But Bishop Deng points to encouraging signs:
"The people of Abyei have never before had such a workshop when they could speak freely and discuss issues in depth without government interference. The workshop has given people confidence and raised hopes that they can play a part in building peace with justice and in healing their traumatised communities."
He warned, however, against introducing new divisions into the area. "People may try to divide and destabilise the area. But we must take care. Now is not the time for creating new paramount chiefs such a step should only be considered after the referendum has taken place."
Notes to editors:
1. Abyei is situated 1350km South-West of Khartoum, a journey taking three days by local transport. The bad road conditions and numerous security checks restrict access.
2. The Protocol signed on 26 May 2004 in Naivasha, Kenya, on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict provides for an interim period of six years during which the residents of Abyei will be citizens of both Western Kordofan and Bahr al-Ghazal. A referendum will then be conducted, simultaneous to the referendum for Southern Sudan, when the residents of Abyei will decide whether to retain its special administrative status in the North or become part of Bahr al-Ghazal.
3. The ECS Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee was formed in 2000 as an advocacy unit of the Province of the Episcopal Church of Sudan to address urgent issues arising from the civil war in Sudan. The committee is committed to healing and reconciliation among the peoples of Sudan and trains local personnel in advocacy, human rights and counselling. A series of peace-building workshops has resulted in the establishment of local Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committees in various locations involving church and community leaders.
For further information contact ECS Province on tel +249 183 564722
Article from: Press release from the Episcopal Church of the Sudan