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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

February 16, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 201




Dennis Coday Sudan's conundrum

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

At the end of last year, Africa watchers were hopeful that decades of civil war could be drawing to a close in Sudan. Many believed that a cease-fire agreement could be signed before the first of this year (See my Today's Take of Dec. 22, Those who long for peace.) That deadline was not met, but hope remains.

Government representatives and members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army made significant progress on a number of issues through the end of 2003 and into early 2004. They have been on a break for a few weeks, but are to resume discussion tomorrow. Analysts say this could be the last stage of the negotiations and a comprehensive peace agreement could be signed very soon.

Most regrettably, a peace agreement in Sudan's south will not end all conflict in the country. The bitter irony is that as the Khartoum government and the southern-based rebel movement have worked toward agreement, civil conflict has deepened along Sudan's western border with Chad, in an area called Darfur.

According to Catholic Relief Services, which has workers in the area, some 120,000- Sudanese have crossed the border with Chad since April. Tens of thousands of these have moved in just the last two months. According to CRS, "The refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly, have spread widely in pockets in Chad across nearly 400 miles of remote, inhospital, barren desert terrain, largely without suitable access to shelter or water."

Darfur has long been embroiled in ethnic and tribal conflicts. This turned to open, armed revolt against the government in Khartoum a year ago. According to U.N. sources, besides the refugees in Chad, some 670,000 people have been internally displaced. Another 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Other Today's Takes by Dennis Coday
Dec. 30 Justice, Power and the Incarnation
Dec. 24 Fighting the conspiracy against peace
Dec. 23 The true end of era
Dec. 22 Those who long for peace
Oct. 23 Keeping the rituals alive
Oct. 22 Making us bigger and better than we are
Oct. 20 U.S. agenda tops world agenda, again
Oct. 8 Fighting corruption
Oct. 6 Defiling language
The United Nations says half of Darfur's 6 million people are directly affected by the conflict.

Equally worrying as the devastation in Darfur is that the conflict may unravel the peace process in the south.

Citing reports from International Crisis Group and Justice Africa, the United Nations warns, "Unless the situation in Darfur is addressed, there is a very real threat that the north-south problem will simply be replaced by an east-west conundrum."

Embers of a similar conflict smolder in Sudan's east on its border with Eritrea.

In fact, while negotiating peace in the south, Sudan -- according to U.N. reports -- has formed a strategic alliance with Ethiopia and Yemen across the Bab al-Mandab strait. Sudan says the alliance aims at strengthening regional cooperation and has reportedly invited Eritrea to join. Eritrea, which has had disputes with all three nations, calls it an "axis of belligerence." Its borders with Sudan and Ethiopia are closed. Part of the problem is that the government and the southern Sudanese rebels represent only their respective regions. Power brokers in other regions have felt marginalized by the peace process in the south. The International Crisis Group (ICG Sudan Reports) and Justice Africa (Civil Project In Sudan) have long advocated including other groups in talks about Sudan's future.

The best advice for what to do comes from Bishop Paride Taban of the Torit, Sudan, whom I interviewed in November. Taban was in the United States urging Americans to encourage our government to keep the Sudan cause alive in the international community.

"Push the government. The government is like a fish in water and the people are the water. If the water dries up, the fish dies. If the water gets hot, the fish also dies," Taban told me. When the government feels the heat of the water, it will get active, he said.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates the NCR Web site. His e-mail address is

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