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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.

December 22, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 172




Dennis Coday Those who long for peace

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

Those of us who long for peace received some early Christmas presents this year.

Other Today's Takes by Dennis Coday
Oct. 23 Keeping the rituals alive
Oct. 22 Making us bigger and better than we are
Oct. 21 Peace comes to Monrovia
Oct. 20 U.S. agenda tops world agenda, again
Oct. 8 Fighting corruption
Oct. 6 Defiling language
The big surprise came last Friday (Dec. 19) when we learned late in the afternoon that Libya said it wanted to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons programs. The validity of this intention came this morning when the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency announced he was traveling to Libya to "kick-start a process of verification" of Libya's arms program.

Other good news for peaceniks came last week from Sudan. Parties close to the negotiations between the Khartoum government and the southern rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, say the two sides are nearing agreement on a deal that would end more than two decades of war in that country. (See this week's NCR story for more details: Sudan on verge of peace.)

More good news from the Sudan talks came this morning with reports that the two sides have moved closer to a peace deal after agreeing that revenues from the nation's oil industry (located in the South) will be split 50/50 during a six-year interim period that will follow the signing of any peace agreement. This had been a major sticking point.

In Sudan, conflict has simmered since the mid-60s, but more than 2 million people have died and 4 million have become refugees since outright war erupted in 1983.

I interviewed Bishop Paride Taban of the Torit, Sudan, last month. Asked what Americans can do to help the people of Sudan, he said, keep pressure on our government. "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.

That's a good lesson in democratic action, I thought as I listened to the bishop speak.

The advances made with Libya also offer some good lessons. For those of us who long for peace, the news from Libya is as much a gift as the news of how the event has unfolded.

Bush administration officials were quick to point out that Libya initiated talks on scrapping its weapons programs shortly before the invasion of Iraq. The administrations point: See, another rogue state got the message.

British interpretations of events were a bit more circumspect.

When he took to air waves about Libya's announcement, Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "Today's announcement shows that we can fight this menace through more than purely military means; that we can defeat it peacefully, if countries are prepared, in good faith, to work with the international community to dismantle such weapons. Those countries who pursue such a path will find ready partners in the U.S. and in the U.K., as Libya will see."

Britain had reestablished diplomatic ties with Libya in 1999. This opened doors for protracted talks about Libya's involvement with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. Libya had just recently agreed to a compensation deal with the victims of the downed jetliner.

Coverage of the event in the Washington Post ( Libya Vows to Give Up Banned Weapons), noted a "pointed contrast" in President Bush's approach to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. (The Post also noted that President Ronald Reagan called Gaddafi an "evil man" and ordered an air strike on Gaddafi's desert headquarters. Now what does that sound like?)

Unfortunately, within all this good cheer, I must inject some cynicism.

In probing why these peace talks are moving forward now, one common denominator emerges: Oil.

From the Post: "U.S. officials did not publicly discuss the lifting of sanctions against Libya, which have prevented U.S. oil companies from reclaiming their interest in the country's lucrative but antiquated oil industry. The U.S. companies have long been eager to return to the North African nation."

From The Guardian, newspaper in London: Oil deal puts Sudan a step closer to peace. Sudan's main oil fields are in the South, where the rebels are based. The country exports around 300,000 barrels of oil per day. When oil production began in 1999, the rebels and international human rights groups accused the Sudanese government of forcing tens of thousands of southern villagers to flee the oil region.

Could it be that oil has taken us to war in the Middle East and bought us peace in North Africa?

Bishop Taban says unabashedly that oil could be reason his people may eventually return to normalcy. "Many people of the world don't look at just the face of suffering people. There also must be some other interests," he told me.

"There was no other interest until there was oil found in the country."

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

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