Swiss police officer keeps the peace in Sudan

Mark Steininger spent six months in Sudan with the JMC swissinfo.ch

A Zurich police officer, Mark Steininger, has just returned from a six-month stint in the Sudanese Nuba Mountains where he was sent to monitor a ceasefire.

This content was published on September 6, 2003 - 08:46

In January 2002, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated in Switzerland to end more than 20 years of civil war in Sudan - mainly between the Muslim north and the Christian south.

Steininger was part of the Joint Military Commission (JMC) that ensures government forces and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army stick to their agreement to put down their weapons. swissinfo spoke to him on his return.

swissinfo: Can you describe a typical day on your mission?

Marc Steininger: There was no typical day because things could change from one minute to the next. If we got news that someone had been arrested then we would immediately have to follow the case up. We also went on patrol on a regular basis to show the flag and talk to the people.

swissinfo: What do you mean show the flag?

M.S.: To show that JMC is around. The people were very happy that JMC was in Sudan, especially in the Nuba Mountains. Thousands of [displaced] people were moving back to the area, which was affected by the war.

swissinfo: What is the mood amongst the people there?

M.S.: I think they simply enjoy having peace and going about their daily life. They seem happy that the war is behind them – of course there is no peace agreement at the moment – but I think they’re looking forward to peace.

swissinfo: What kind of issues did the people there talk to you about?

M.S.: In the beginning it was always the family because I think they were just trying to be polite and that’s the way they deal with each other. They make small talk first and then talk about problems.

For example, some people would tell me that a goat or a cow had been stolen. All the people had some kind of problem, which they wanted to discuss with JMC. In the end, it was usually something like a stolen goat and how to deal with it.

swissinfo: How did the people respond to you being there?

M.S.: They were quite friendly. The hospitality was outstanding in Sudan and I was rather surprised. The people were really happy and cheerful when they saw us. And on some days we made many coffee stops and talked to people. People needed to talk to us because they constantly had questions about the ceasefire agreement, ceasefire violations and about the future. We were there trying to help and give answers.

swissinfo: What’s it like going from working as a police officer in Zurich to being in Sudan?

M.S.: It’s a challenge, but I really liked it. It would be good if every policeman joined a mission at least once because I think the social competence that you can gain in a mission is quite high. You might see things differently when you come back and that’s a really good thing, especially when you work as a police officer.

swissinfo: What kind of social competence does one get in that situation?

M.S.: I think you learn a lot about different cultures, and one thing you learn for sure in Sudan is patience, because time does not pass the way it does in Switzerland. You also talk to people that have faced war, they don’t live in a safe and secure environment like in Zurich.

I think it’s important that we see what kind of other problems there are on this planet.

swissinfo: What do you think the prospects for peace are in Sudan?

M.S.: I think the people there are ready, they’re looking forward to peace but it’s difficult to predict because the mood could change in hours. But what I can say is that people are definitely ready for peace.

swissinfo–interview: Karin Kamp

Sudan summary

Sudan has been engaged in civil war since 1983 when sharia (Muslim) law was declared and a 1972 accord that promised to give the mainly Christian south autonomy was abandoned.

In 1989, the current president, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, took power in a bloodless coup.

Peace talks held in the early 1990s were fruitless - in 1999 there were small signs of progress.

By January 2002, rebels and government forces agreed to a ceasefire in the Nuba mountains.

Many mediators now believe that the chances for reaching a peace deal are better than ever before.

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