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After 21 years of devastating civil war claiming the lives of 2 million people, Sudanese Christians are cautiously banking on a new peace deal. They say it could finally bring a fresh start for southerners, many of whom have been persecuted for their faith.

Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army have signed six peace protocols, including three on May 26 in Kenya. Under the accords, the mostly Christian and animist south will remain autonomous for six years. Then there will be an envisioned referendum on independence from the largely Muslim, Arab north.

"The decisions reached between the north and south mean a lot to the Christians in Sudan," Anglican Bishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of Renk told Christianity Today.

Christians, he said, will begin to enjoy access to food, water, shelter, medicines, and clothing, "which they were denied directly or indirectly by the government of Sudan" during the war. They will also start taking positions as judges to begin overseeing their affairs, pursue opportunities to create jobs without "harassment and sabotage," and enjoy freedoms of movement and expression, as well as the rights to worship and evangelize.

According to Jeremiah Swaka of the Sudan Council of Churches, the peace agreement means that southern Sudanese Christians displaced in the north "will return home and practice their faith without any hurdles and government curtailments."

The bishop believes the international community must help resettle displaced people; build roads, schools, and hospitals; and invest wisely for the future of all Sudanese.

The country also needs peacekeeping forces and civilian monitors, Swaka said. In Sudan, "peace agreements between the north and the south are easily and quickly dishonored." ...

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August 2004

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