A pair of articles from The Economist, 3 Jul 08:

The discreet charms of the international go-between
.....The Kenyan talks provide a good example of the sort of skills that a new kind of international mediator can bring to the age-old work of conflict resolution. For as the nature of the world’s conflicts has changed in the past decade or so, so the demand for a new type of mediator has grown too.

The CHD, for instance, founded by just four people only nine years ago, now has a staff of over 70. The UN has traditionally provided a forum for the discussion and resolution of international disputes. However as Kreddha, a Dutch-based mediation group, argues: “There are no equivalent mechanisms for intrastate dispute resolution...despite the fact that most violent conflicts today are not international but intrastate in character.” The new mediators provide the new mechanisms.

Many of these contemporary conflicts involve insurgents, secessionists or even “resource-warriors”, like those in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria, who clash with governments. Rival politicians can be brought into open conflict by elections, such as in Kenya, or now Zimbabwe.

The new kinds of disputes involve non-traditional parties such as international mining or oil companies pitched against indigenous people, as well as national governments tackling more established terrorist groups. One study has shown that over the past 15 years military victories have resolved only 7.5% of conflicts, while negotiations have prevailed in 92% of cases; “the challenge is thus not being a skilful warrior but a skilful negotiator.”......
Mediation and Faith: Not a Sword, But Peace
....Helping warring parties (who may or may not profess a religion) to come together is not quite the same as inter-faith dialogue, though the two things can overlap. Faith-based mediation often involves putting to work in hard secular places the virtues that at least some religious people possess (discretion, modesty, empathy, a non-judgmental cast of mind, an ability to overcome cultural barriers).

Since the early 1990s, Sant’Egidio mediators have helped broker deals in places like Mozambique, Guatemala, Kosovo and, most recently, Côte d’Ivoire. Africa and Latin America are the main fields that Christian peacemakers plough. What many world leaders want to know is whether such groups bring anything unique to the business of reconciliation.....

.....The Netherlands Institute of International Relations found 27 Christian, Muslim and multi-faith peace groups to look at for a study issued in 2005. Their strengths, it reported, included “long-term commitment, long-term presence on the ground, moral and spiritual authority, and a niche to mobilise others for peace”. But there were weaknesses, such as “a lack of focus on results and a possible lack of professionalism”. A further risk, the institute said, was that the impulse to proselytise would obstruct the search for peace.

Peacemaking by Christian evangelicals in south Sudan seems to have been mired at times by an unhappy mix of missionary work and mediation. That is a qualification to the view, set out in a 2001 report from the Congressionally-funded United States Institute of Peace, that “faith-based organisations have a special role to play in zones of religious conflict.” In the Middle East, any progress has stemmed from secular initiatives. But that, says Sharon Rosen, could be a reason why progress is so scant.....