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Sudan's persecuted Christians are celebrating a peace accord and hoping for the best. Sudan's government and rebel leaders from the predominantly Christian and animist south signed the agreement January 9 in Kenya.

The treaty ends 22 years of ethnic- and religious-based civil war. The conflict pitted the Arab Muslim regime in Khartoum, northern Sudan, against the black Christian and animist south. The war left some 2 million dead, mainly from illness and famine, and 4 million Sudanese displaced.

Civil war started immediately after the British granted Sudan independence in 1956. That war ended in 1972. Violence resumed in 1983 when Khartoum imposed Islamic law nationwide. In the 1990s, the government launched bombing raids that targeted schools, hospitals, and relief centers operated by international aid groups. Since 1999 the government has sought to exploit the south's vast oil reserves, fueling the conflict.

The agreement calls for a secular government in southern Sudan's 10 states and Islamic law in the north. It grants autonomy for the south and splits money from the south's oil and other natural wealth evenly between the north and south. In 2011 the south will vote on independence. United Nations peacekeepers are to help enforce the agreement.

Restoring normalcy in Sudan will be tough, according to Myron Jesperson, director of World Relief Sudan. "There are many elements that threaten to tear apart the fragile agreement, not least the terrible war that is escalating in Darfur," Jesperson said. Genocide in western Darfur pits Arab Muslims against black tribal Muslims.

Congressman Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., remains wary. "Anytime you talk about a group that 133; targets Christians for persecution and death, you have to worry about ...

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March 2005

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