Sudanese Cardinal Challenges Government to Halt Discrimination

Khartoum Archbishop Says Peace Is Top Priority

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ROME, NOV. 14, 2003 ( Sudan’s government has a part to play in achieving national reconciliation in a conflict «in which religious differences have been used almost as a weapon of war,» says Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako.

The 62-year-old prelate, who has been archbishop of Khartoum since 1981, was one of the big surprises in the new group of cardinals installed by John Paul II last month.

The Sudanese archbishop has been a promoter of peace in a country lacerated by two decades of civil war, which has left 2 million dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have been in conflict since 1983, when then President Gaafar Nimeiry established the Shariah, or Islamic law.

Forced Islamization of the peoples of the south, the majority of whom are Christians or animists, began in 1989.

Peace talks between SPLA leader John Garang and government representatives have been under way in Kenya. The process has been accelerated by pressure from the United States and the European Union. Observers hope that a peace agreement will be signed before year-end.

«Peace is at the top of the desire of our people,» Cardinal Wako said in an interview published in the latest issue of the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana. «We all want an end to this massacre and to the uprooting of so many people from their land.»

Reconciliation between the Muslim populations of the north and the Christians and animists of the south «is possible, although very difficult,» the archbishop said. The reason is that «religious differences have been used almost as a weapon of war.»

Given this reality, those who are concerned with the formation of people — «religious communities and schools» — have an all-important role to play, he stressed.

«The government can also do much to restore confidence to peoples who have suffered so much. It should put an end to discrimination against non-Muslims» and those who have not taken on Arab ways, he said.

Although Sudan is not formally an Islamic republic, in practice «it is as if it were,» he said. «Only Muslims enjoy full rights and government structures are dominated by Muslims.»

Officially, the Shariah is applied only in the north, but it is the foundation of all national legislation and, therefore, affects everyone. In the north, moreover, the Shariah is also applied to non-Muslims, the cardinal said.

It is not just ethnic and religious causes that are behind the war in Sudan, but «above all, political, economic and social causes,» the archbishop of Khartoum said.

«After independence, the difference between north and south increased to the detriment of the peoples of the south, who have been discriminated against by the government,» he explained.

To this is added the discovery of great oil resources in the south, whose population is demanding that the benefits devolve to them. «This is also a chapter of the peace talks,» the archbishop noted.

Cardinal Wako believes that, if there is to be peace in Sudan, two priorities must be kept in mind: «to find an alternative to those who for so many years have been dedicated to war,» and to disarm and give jobs to the militias of both sides and «create a mentality of peace.»

The Church in Sudan is made up in the main of peoples from the south. Even the faithful in the Khartoum Archdiocese are primarily displaced people from the south. «Therefore, we live the problems and sufferings deriving from the conflict and uprooting,» the cardinal added.

«We are committed to peace, justice and human rights,» he said. «But the government and people of the north often look upon the Church with suspicion, as if it were an organization of the people of the south.»

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