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Associated Press

Peace in Sudan Also Brings Uncertainty

By MICHELLE FAUL , 01.09.2006, 12:17 PM

Refugees are coming back, young men are searching for brides and the hum of crickets and chirping birds has replaced the stutter of gunfire a year after a truce ended a 21-year war that killed 2 million people in southern Sudan .

But villagers living in places unnamed on any map – without roads, electricity, schools or clinics – say they still feel forgotten, and fear war will return if peace does not also mean prosperity.

Guns are the most modern innovation in sight. A lucky few have wheel-driven pumps to draw water.

“We have been left behind to walk with the cows,” says medical worker Francis Gatluak, 48. “People in Sudan are not treated equally … and peace will not stay until they are.”

Centuries of hatred have built up between north and south Sudan since Arab Muslims invaded Africa ‘s Nubian kingdoms in the mid-600s in search of slaves and converts among its Coptic Christians. The Nubians repulsed them, but a gradual Arabization took place and continues today in Africa’s largest country, covering an area one-third the size of the United States .

Ancient animosities over land and water were compounded by the discovery of oil in south Sudan , triggering a rebellion in 1983 by mainly Christian and animist southerners.

Guerrillas won control of much of the south but the Arab government in Khartoum , the capital, established garrison towns around the three major oil fields it began exploiting in the 1990s.

Gatluak said the difference between north and south is “like night and day,” with the north enjoying electricity, piped water, paved roads, schools and high-rise buildings constructed with new oil wealth estimated to account for 70 percent of the country’s income.

He doubted southerners would wait six years for a referendum on independence, provided under a Jan. 9, 2005, peace agreement that produced a national unity government and promises autonomy, religious freedom and an equal share of oil wealth to the south.

Former rebel leaders with an army drawn from their Sudanese People’s Liberation Army are preparing to take over this month in Juba , the only town in the deep south reachable by a paved though badly potholed road. Its streets are full of white U.N. vehicles carrying the first of some 10,000 peacekeepers.

But one year on, southerners accuse the Khartoum government of giving only a fraction of what was promised in oil revenues.

Relative peace has not stopped gunbattles between rival clans over cattle, pasture and water.

Brig. David Reayh Malmal charged the Khartoum government was actively arming militias and rival clans even while the new unity government had sent him to Lankien to disarm SPLA soldiers.

“This peace is not going well,” he told The Associated Press.

Sudan ‘s government denies it unleashed surrogate militias that continue to terrorize southerners. Militiamen were supposed to decide by Monday whether to join the southern or northern armies but remain independent, armed and “a big problem,” according to Malmal.

The government, meanwhile, is accused of unleashing a genocide to put down a separate rebellion in the western Darfur province, where at least 180,000 people have died and 1.5 million are displaced.

Aid agencies in Darfur are anxious to see peace hold in the south, where more than half a million refugees are expected to return this year. Many worry they will not stay if life in refugee camps proves better.

Stephen Dak Biel, 15, dreamed of becoming a doctor when he started school at a camp in Khartoum . But he had to return to Lankien last year when riots erupted after southern rebel leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash just three weeks after becoming vice president of the unity government.

“Here, there’s nothing for me,” said Biel . The nearest school is a three-day walk.

The U.N. World Food Program is removing land mines and building 1,200 miles of roads – a project that would save millions of dollars in airdropping food aid. And the U.N. refugee agency has started building schools, water points, hospitals and vocational training centers.

But none have reached Lankien, where Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, chartered a plane last month to deliver a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Days later, doctors used it to reach four men wounded in a spear fight, and said it saved the lives of two.

In Lankien, flags emblazoned with bulls hang atop huts, signaling young men are looking for brides.

“Before, all the men ran away to escape the war,” said Nyalowal Lam, for whom peace brought union to the man she was supposed to marry four years ago. “Now, we have weddings every week. Now we can live normally.”