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SUDAN: Episcopal Church urges government to accept UN force for Darfur

[Catholic Information Service for Africa]  As violence has escalated in Darfur in recent days, the Episcopal Church of Sudan has questioned the government's continued refusal to allow the intervention of United Nations peacekeepers.

The church deplored "a new deterioration in the situation in Darfur," warning that "the present situation puts innumerable lives at risk. We call on all the Sudanese people and the international community to act to rescue the situation."

At the same time the church expressed concern that recent episodes of violence in South Sudan raised doubts over the government's commitment to implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the 21-year war.

On December 5, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) flew 134 humanitarian staff out of El Fasher, amid growing concerns following several days of clashes in the provincial capital of North Darfur.

UNMIS said in its latest update that clashes between rebel groups and government forces and allied militias, as well as the increased presence of Janjaweed militia and other armed movements, had destabilized the already volatile situation.

At least 200,000 Darfuris have died in the crisis, now in its fourth year. More than two million of the region's six million people have fled to squalid internal camps and to neighboring Chad.

The Episcopal Church, in a statement signed by Bishop Daniel Deng Bul, chairman of the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission, recalled that in August, heads of churches in Sudan had called on the government to commence dialogue with the people of Darfur, disarm the State-backed Janjaweed militia and accept a UN peace force.

"We are concerned at the government of Sudan's continued resistance to the coming of UN peacekeepers to Darfur. Urgent intervention is required," said the statement.

The 7,000-strong African Union force in the region is unable to quell the violence, and the Sudanese Army is of no help, as it has been accused of contributing to the violence, the church said.

"The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have been unable to bring the situation under control and are also widely held to have contributed to the situation. We recognize the efforts of African Union forces but also see the great practical challenges which are faced. We urge all parties to accept international assistance to contain the violence."

The UN Security Council Resolution 1706, passed on August 31, authorized deployment of a 20,000-plus multinational force to replace the AU troops whose mandate expires on December 31. But President Omar El Bashir rejected a multinational peace force under the UN.

Last week the AU Peace and Security Council agreed to extend the mandate of its peace mission to Darfur, known as AMIS, by six months until the end of June next year.

On the recent violence in South Sudan, the church said clashes in Malakal resulted "from the continued activities of government-backed militia. There were also attacks by armed groups, including government soldiers, in Eastern Equatoria.

"We call on the international community to put pressure on the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A to uphold their commitments in the CPA and to make greater efforts to make peace attractive," the church said.