The British development charities CAFOD, Christian Aid, and Tear Fund are calling on the UK and US government to convince all parties engaged in the conflict in Sudan to go to the peace-negotiating table. The aid agencies are funding the Sudan Ecumenical Forum (SEF), a conference of Sudan's religious leaders and their external friends on 4th - 6th March in London. The SEF is a body that was set up in the early 1990's, under the umbrella of the World Council of Churches, to promote peace and reconciliation in Sudan. Executive Secretary for Human Rights in the World Council of Churches, Clement John, said: "It is hoped that the U.S. and the U.K., two important countries interested in seeking a peaceful resolution of the conflict, would take note of the meeting in London and take the necessary steps to persuade Khartoum to go for a negotiated peace rather than for a military option." The Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short will be one of the keynote speakers. She said: "The civil war in Sudan has continued for all but 10 years since independence in 1956. Everyone in Sudan has suffered. All who care for the people of Sudan should work for a just peace rather than a prolongation of the war. I am very pleased to be able to speak at the 5th March meeting of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum about our joint efforts to bring long lasting peace to the people of Sudan. I believe the churches in the UK, US and Sudan could be a major engine of peace." The conference comes at a crucial time with a number of new developments such as a cease-fire agreement in the Nuba mountains area between the rebel Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan's government, with US backing. Catholic Bishop David Konstant of Leeds has visited Sudan and will be at the conference. He said: "Now is a critical period in the history of Sudan with one of the best opportunities to move the peace process forward. The Christian churches have always played an important role in promoting dialogue, and this conference is one more attempt to find solutions to the problems that lie at the heart of Sudan's conflict." One of the purposes of the conference is to ensure that the voice of civil society from south Sudan, as expressed through the Churches, is heard more clearly. "Any peace agreement that was reached without taking into account the views of the ordinary people will not be sustainable," says Rob Rees, CAFOD's programme officer for Sudan. "The kind of system that can bring about a just and lasting peace has to be found by the Sudanese through discussions amongst themselves, but the ecumenical community can do much to help this happen."
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