It was the first meeting of its kind after more than seven and a half years of fierce fighting following the split of the SPLA in August 28, 1991. Our Correspondent Makur Kot Dhuor attended and reports on the deliberations.
The West Bank peace conference was the culmination of a nine-day peace conference that was held last June between key border chiefs and church leaders of the Dinka and Nuer from both sides of the Nile River in Southern Sudan. On 10th June 1998The Nuer-Dinka Loki Accord was signed on June 10 last year thus launching this current effort. An East Bank conference is being planned to follow this one.
The conference took place in a cordial atmosphere with security provided by the SPLM/A because the gathering took place in the SPLM/A controlled areas under Dr John Garang. This discounted earlier fears and suspicions that have prevailed among the Dinka and Nuer for almost seven and a half years of tribal conflict. There were doubts from some members of the Nuer community who ultimately skipped the conference fearing a backlash from the Dinka who are the predominant population at Bahr el-Ghazal. But such fears were unfounded and peace was ensured when a white bull, known as mabior in Dinka language was slaughtered.
Addressing the conference, Awut Deng, a woman delegate from the Dinka community, recalled that in the last 15 years of the conflict, women had suffered a great deal. They had been maimed, raped or killed together with their children. She wondered why women and children were being victimised and sought for an end to the war.
Another woman from Nuer side, Deborah Nyadian, a mother of three children, said men were incapable of imagining the pain of delivering a child because of the biological make-up. It was, however, necessary for them to acknowledge the role of women in society.
If these things have never happened to any man, we women want to know from the men of Nuer and Dinka who have been fighting among themselves why are women and children dying between them, Nyadian asked.
She said: " If the men do not answer well, we women are going to stop giving birth to children in Southern Sudan. It will be a waste of time to continue giving birth to children who are killed at the end of the day." She stressed that the majority of the victims of the war were women and children
Women are presently confronted with life challenges such as ensuring education for children, looking for food, ensuring the availability of medical services, shelter and clothing. Many women speakers therefore urged men to recognise the role of the women and spare them of the agony of continuing with the war.
As a result many observers agree that the Dinka-Nuer West Bank peace and reconciliation conference held in Bahr el-Ghazal in Southern Sudan has depicted a bold commitment for peace that could have national implications.
The conference, facilitated by church leaders had resulted in a peace agreement called the "Wulnit Dinka-Nuer Covenant". The covenant and its resolutions were signed by more than 300 Dinka and Nuer chiefs including community leaders, local administrators, church leaders and representatives of the women and youth. It boldly promises an end to the seven-and-half-year conflict between the Dinka and Nuer of the West Bank of the Nile .It further resolved a permanent cease-fire with immediate effect.
According to the terms of the ceasefire, amnesty is granted for offences committed prior to January 1 this year. These significant developments were adopted through a consensus. The slaughter of a large white bull known in Dinka as mabior by traditional spiritual leaders of both communities symbolised peace and an end to the conflict. This was a warning that anyone who violates the covenant would go the way of the white bull.
Christian church leaders conducted daily prayers and the final covenant was sealed both in Christian worship and in traditional sacrifice of another bull, the malook. There was dancing and other traditional rites reserved for such significant occasions. Each clan later roasted their share of meat under the trees in conformity with their traditional customs and requirements.
"Peace and reconciliation is power and it is like a travelling document with which you can go anywhere. So whatever you agree upon here is your power and respect it," the newly consecrated Father Caesar Mazzolani of Southern Sudan told the delegates.
"We can give you food, clothes and medicine, but these will be worth nothing when you do not have peace and reconciliation," the clergyman stressed.
The conference also addressed the issue of the missing persons and marriages of captives. The delegates emphasised the need to identify people who had gone missing or had been abducted during the conflict. The issue of marriages and the return of persons to their families and home areas were also reviewed. The delegates further considered issues relating to land reclamation and rebuilding relationships.
Other matters of concern were institutional arrangements and monitoring the border which includes police stations, border courts, appeal processes, the initiation of radio stations to build communications across the borders, joint policing of the grazing and fishing areas during the dry season, and forming a peace council composed of 137 members including one member from the NSCC to implement the resolutions.
It was resolved that in the future, the peace process would sent invitations to commanders who have been involved in the war. We cannot isolate them because they are our brothers although they are with the enemy, the participants stated.
They acknowledged that peace initiatives could not only be confined among the Dinka and Nuer but also had to be extended to the East Bank of the Nile to other Nilotic peoples of Equatorial and other areas of Southern Sudan.
The participants pledged to observe and implement the resolutions. This is to be done with an appeal to the SPLM/A and the United Democratic Salvation Front and Southern Sudan Democratic Front UDSF/SSDF led by Dr Riek Machar to endorse, embrace and assist in implementation of this covenant and its resolutions. The participants further appealed to the international community to endorse, embrace and assist in implementation of this covenant and resolution.
"It is neither implementation nor follow-up of the covenant which is important but for these to succeed, we have to disseminate and inculcate into the minds of the people first so that they can understand better what these resolutions mean," said Dr Peter Nyot Kok, member of the management committee of the peace conference.