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IN THE NEWS - Sudan Conflict

Broadcast: May 22, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

Sudan has had conflict throughout its history. The country gained its independence from Britain in nineteen-fifty-six. The current war in Sudan began twenty one years ago. Black southerners rebelled against their treatment by the Arab government in the north. At that time the government ordered non-Muslims to honor Islamic law.

Sudan has about thirty-million people. Most in the north are Muslim. The south is mostly Christian or animist. Rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army want greater self-rule for the south.

Two-million people have died in the war, mostly through hunger and disease. Four-million others have been displaced. Disputes over oil, ethnicity and differing cultural beliefs have added to the conflict.

The current peace talks began eight months ago in Kenya. A cease-fire is supposed to remain in effect during the talks. The government and the rebels have been attempting to settle final disputes. They have already signed agreements to divide state and religion, form a new army and share oil profits after the war ends.

But the agreements do not cover the conflict in the Darfur area of western Sudan. Violence has continued there for more than a year. The United Nations calls the situation in Darfur one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Many people have been killed. Many more risk starvation. And, more than one-hundred-thousand people have fled to Chad.

The people in Darfur are black Muslim farmers. They rebelled in February of last year. They said the government did not care enough about them. They demanded the same compromises offered to Christians in the south. Since then, armed Arab groups known as janjaweed have burned villages and towns in Darfur. They are also accused of widespread sexual attacks and murder.

The Sudanese government has faced criticism for not stopping the violence. The government in Khartoum has denied any involvement. It has offered to cooperate with the United States, the United Nations and international aid groups to help the displaced people.

Under pressure, Sudan invited a U-N human rights team and the head of the World Food Program to visit the area. And late this week Sudan said it suspended the need for travel permits for aid workers to visit Darfur.

Sudan still has other problems in the south. In recent days, fighting re-started in the Upper Nile area. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army controls that area. The fighting has forced thousands of people from their homes.

And, on Friday, the World Health Organization reported ten cases of what it called an Ebola-like infection in southern Sudan. It said four people in Western Equatoria province had died from the virus.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.