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Church Group Reports Renewed Fighting in Southern Sudan - 2004-05-20


A pan-African church organization reports that, within the past week, government-backed militias have set fire to the homes of some 23,000 villagers in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan.

The general-secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, Rev. Mvume Dandala, told reporters in Nairobi renewed fighting has erupted some 700 kilometers south of Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

?We were informed by the people of Sudan that government-backed militias are raiding villages in the Upper Nile region with equal zeal as they are doing in Darfur. Within the last four days, homes of an estimated 23,000 villagers have been razed down in the Upper Nile,? he said.

Reverend Dandala says the militias are moving towards the northern parts of the Upper Nile, driving thousands of villagers from their homes.

Reverend Dandala spoke at a news conference following his recent tour of Sudan. He says he is extremely heartbroken by the suffering he saw throughout Sudan.

He says most of the world's attention has been focused on the war in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, where rebels are battling government troops and an Arab militia believed to be backed by the government. The fighting in Darfur, humanitarian agencies warn, is pushing millions of people to the bring of starvation.

But, says Reverend Dandala, Upper Nile and other parts of Sudan must not be ignored.

?Together with Darfur, the recent unfolding situation truly lends itself to a genocide in the making. It resembles Rwanda 10 years ago when the world merely watched as tragic events unfolded there,? he added.

Upper Nile is located in southern Sudan and is controlled by the country's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army. The group is currently in peace talks with the Sudanese government in Kenya to try to end 21 years of civil war.

The two sides have signed a cease-fire, which is supposed to be in effect while the talks are taking place.

The Kenyan mediator of the Sudanese peace talks, retired general Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says the ongoing conflict in the Upper Nile poisons the talks' atmosphere, but is not an agenda item.

?It is not being addressed by the talks, neither is it affecting the talks,? general Sumbeiywo said. ?It is one of those incidences that do happen because somebody in the field does not think he that should follow orders from anybody.?

General Sumbeiywo says the fighting in Upper Nile, which started in January, is largely between members of the government militia who joined the rebel group, and those who are still with the government.

The church group's Rev. Dandala calls on the two sides to reach a peace deal soon, and says ordinary Sudanese are anxiously following the talks.

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