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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Zones of Peace
Landon Hancock and Christopher Mitchell (eds.)

(Kumarian Press, Sterling, VA, 2007) 256 pp, PB, 22.50 ISBN 978-1565492332

There is a tendency in many books about violent conflict to regard ?ordinary people? as the prisoners of impersonal structural forces or as tools of manipulative elites. One of the strengths of these essays is that they remind us that people can choose to be neither victims nor pawns and can undertake initiatives that represent creative, dynamic and non-violent responses to their situation. This collection analyses the use of sanctuary and Zones of Peace (ZOP) in war zones, which, as the first chapter demonstrates, have a long history. The main cases, however, are taken from situations of internal conflict in the past two decades. After two thoughtful introductory overviews on theory and practice the reader is offered chapters on the Philippines, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Aceh and Sudan. There is also a comparative analysis of the Philippines and the UN Safe Areas in Bosnia. The book ends with an extended discussion of the different forms that ZOP can take and the factors that are likely to make them a success. The contributors are to be praised for a coherence often lacking in edited books of this type. In part this is because the volume is rooted in the working group on Zones of Peace at George Mason University?s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. All the authors have been either academics or post-graduate students there. The other reason for the sense of evenness is that the two editors contribute to six of the ten chapters.

The core motivation for ZOP is to provide places of safety during violent conflict. However, as the case studies reveal, zones of peace can offer more than conflict mitigation. Their work also encompasses: the delivery of humanitarian aid (?Corridor of Peace? in Sudan); conflict prevention by building stronger communities (the rondas campesinas of Peru); disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (Aceh); sustainable development (La Coordinadora in El Salvador); and post-violence peacebuilding (the Philippines).

All the authors seem sceptical about ZOP that are created through a top-down process. As well as a strong commitment and unity from the grass-roots that ensure initiatives are locally driven, other factors that facilitate success include: dialogue with all the key stakeholders rather than appeals to external norms; declared neutrality and impartial behaviour; effective leadership; clearly defined boundaries; and the capacity to work for positive peace. Some factors, however, are outside the control of the groups who want to make ZOP a success. These would include remoteness from the main centres of combat, the absence of valued goods (material or symbolic) within the sanctuary, and the existence of outside protectors or patrons. Peace Zones cannot always convince cynical politicians and distrustful militarised groups that they deserve to be respected. Zones in Aceh collapsed when general hostilities resumed in 2003. In Colombia, the Uribe regime?s attempts to destroy the FARC (strongly backed by the Bush administration) have made it harder to sustain some ZOP, but it hasn?t destroyed them. This reminds us that we cannot escape the influence of structural factors or manipulative elites entirely.


Dr. Stephen Ryan, University of Ulster



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